In My Father’s Den

In My Father's Den


Paul (Macfadyen), a prize-winning war journalist, returns to his remote New Zealand hometown due to the death of his father, battle-scarred and world-weary. For the discontented sixteen-year-old Celia (Barclay) he opens up a world she has only dreamed of. She actively pursues a friendship with him, fascinated by his cynicism and experience of the world beyond her small-town existence. But many, including the members of both their families (Otto, Moy), frown upon the friendship and when Celia goes missing, Paul becomes the increasingly loathed and persecuted prime suspect in her disappearance. As the violent and urgent truth gradually emerges, Paul is forced to confront the family tragedy and betrayal that he ran from as a youth, and to face the grievous consequences of silence and secrecy that has surrounded his entire adult life.

Title In My Father's Den
Director Brad McGann
Director of Photography Stuart Dryburgh
Runtime 2 h 06 min
Certification R
Release Date 11 June 2004
IMDb Id tt0385017

When you watch a movie like this, you cannot help but think that New Zealand must be full of small towns with frustrated people with limited experience of the world beyond – and they don’t really understand their immediate environment either as that seems to be filled with unspeakable family secrets and other skeletons… Luckily, that can make for an interesting movie.

Paul Prior (Matthew Macfadyen) left New Zealand a long time ago in pursuit of a career as a war reporter. When he returns home for his father’s funeral it quickly transpires that he has not been in any contact with anyone from his younger years at all. He uncomfortably reconnects with his brother and his family, and stumbles upon a 16-year old girl, Celia (Emily Barclay), in his father’s secret hideaway cabin. Celia turns out to be his childhood girlfriend’s daughter.

When Paul takes on a role as teacher at the local school, he gets closer to Celia, and encourages her to pursue her dreams. When Celia suddenly disappears, Paul finds himself under scrutiny from the locals, and more so, he finds himself scrutinising his own past.

The movie is a slow burn on its way to a crescendo of skeletons tumbling out of a number of closets in the last act. This slow burn could have benefited from some light relief along the way, but it is well made and very well acted so you are engaged through the entire build-up. There is some creative time-line jumping to help the viewer get more context and draw you into the mystery. The only flaw worth mentioning is that the Why of the ending, whilst understandable to the audience, is somewhat underdeveloped. I guess this is done to keep the audience guessing, but I think it could have benefitted from a bit more depth and personality.

But this is definitely a film worth seeing if you enjoy moody atmospheres and dark family secrets, with solid acting and some beautiful photography along the way.


In My Father’s Den
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