Daughter movie review & film summary (2023)

Mother reassures her Daughter in Vietnamese. This early conversation seems to go on for longer than it should, but the silences that punctuate Dinh’s speech only deepen the unsettling mood established by a wide-angle master shot, which highlights the sheer size and emptiness of Father’s garage. Natural light, some film grain, and an unusual focus on uncomfortable silences give “Daughter” a superficial poise and a sense of mystery. So what’s wrong with this picture, and how do you play this family’s weird little game?

Father establishes some generic expectations and ground rules. He tells Son the world outside is sick, which also ostensibly explains his ominous home-schooling lessons. Mother prefers to go along to get along and encourages Daughter to do the same. (In Vietnamese: “It’s easier to give him what he wants.”) Son grins broadly and always tries to please Father. Daughter scatters seeds of mistrust by suggesting that she and her new Brother should collaborate on a play for his upcoming birthday. Father has his doubts—I mean, yeah—but allows his children to play by themselves. A strange, emotionally stillborn contest of wills ensues.

It’s sometimes hard to know where exactly “Daughter” is headed, though it’s obviously got something to do with storytelling and indoctrination. Van Dien’s dialogue is too flat and unyielding to be worth considering for long. He rails about critical thinking and casts judgment on the people outside his house, who could represent anybody from vax-compliant sheeple to anti-masking mavericks.

Writer/director/producer Corey Deshon pays increasing attention to Daughter’s sneaky attempts to influence her surrogate Brother through their scripted play, which they collaborate on secretly. But while this drama within the drama recalls “Dogtooth,” an acknowledged influence, nothing else about “Daughter” feels so distinctive.

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