To be honest, I really wanted to like Catch Me Daddy. Aside from reading a few reviews that convinced me to watch it, after putting it on my hard drive several months ago, I resisted reading anything else so that, when I finally possessed the energy to sit down and appreciate it, I would have very few preconceptions. But from what little I read, and based on the look of the trailer, I was looking forward to a night where I would be sit down to watch it, maybe with some other people, and enjoy an intense indie film.
In some ways Catch Me Daddy fulfilled my desire. For one thing, it’s a film that realizes that the language of film is primarily moving image and is adept at showing rather than telling – or, more accurately, telling through showing. The best filmmakers, in my opinion, are those who are able to master this skill: they don’t rely on dialogue to explain everything, they can make a film move and produce emotion without spoken info-dumps but with what they show; on the other hand, they don’t end up losing themselves in the possible obscurantism or monotony that can result from a practice of showing that doesn’t tell anything or at least anything significant. (While I know this will make me life long enemies, I think that Terrence Malick is an example of someone who tells nothing significant in his image-driven filming… this is because, at least in my opinion and with the honourable exception of Badlands, he’s an American imitation of Tarkovsky.) Daniel Wolfe’s Catch Me Daddy is a thriller that is indeed gripping, even though its explanatory dialogue is sparse, and it is beautifully shot and acted.
My problem with this film, though, is not merely that it falters in the denouement where, after one of the protagonists is hatchet murdered by a coked up racist bounty hunter, things go to filmic shit – the motivation for some characters’ actions become convoluted, annoyingly melodramatic dialogue ensues – but that this denouement is driven by the film’s problematic focus on “honour killings” (though this word is never used) on the part of British South Asians. Maybe I should have expected that there might be a problem with this film after watching the trailer, where one of the reviews proclaimed that it was “John Ford on the Yorkshire Moors.” I know that film critics like to cite John Ford as some icon of the western genre, but let’s face it: Ford was a consummate racist who would be happy to participate in KKK rallies – all of his films were exercises in defending the American frontier, the right to slaughter Indigenous peoples. Any comparison to Ford should make us dubious from the get-go.
The dramatic tension in Catch Me Daddy is driven by the fact that the main character, Laila, has violated the social norms of her Pakistani family by shacking up with her white boyfriend. Her “dishonoured” father sends his son, some Pakistani thugs, and two hired white bounty hunters to teach her a lesson – namely, to murder her for the dishonour she has brought to her family. The film is strong when the motivations of Laila’s antagonists remain vague, when we don’t know why the two white “searchers” (one of whom is clearly racist) are working with the Pakistanis, but loses its universal appeal when the honour killing angle takes centre stage.
None of this is to say that there isn’t such a thing as “honour killing” – that young women have not been heinously murdered by reactionary familial patriarchs – but only that a film that is structured around this topic really needs to consider the ways in which the spectre of this crime is utilized by conservative pundits to justify Islamophobia. That is, while it is true that honour killing does indeed exist, it is just as much an outlier practice as a whole host of other religious crimes against women that obscurantist Christian fundamentalist sects in the western world practice. So when a white British man makes a film that is driven by the problematic of honour killing in the context of an Islamophobia that has become the justification for contemporary fascism, he really should do the work to be careful that he is not endorsing the fascist narrative that treats honour killing as an essential worldview of “those barbarous Muslims.”
Even worse, Catch Me Daddy goes beyond Islamophobia by venturing into the realm of a general brown person phobia. It’s not entirely clear that Laila’s family is Muslim since there is nothing in the film that symbolizes them as Muslim aside from their skin colour and the fact they are – as the racist bounty hunter and even Laila’s boyfriend declares – Pakis. Hell, Laila’s dad is a drinker, hardly the characteristic of someone concerned with the Muslim honour of his family. So the message here is that all brown people living in the first world are potential ciphers of barbarism, thugs who want to murder their women for transgressing the medieval norms that are essential to their being.
I am not arguing that there should be no filmic investigations of the problem of honour killing, that this crime should be ignored because of Islamophobia. Nor am I celebrating a banal standpoint ethics that asserts that only members of a given community can talk about the problems inherent to this community. I am simply pointing that if you do want to engage with an outlier ethical problem that has been attached to a particular community that, as a whole, is under attack, you have to do your work to make sure that your depiction of this problem does not fit comfortably within the narrative of contemporary fascism.
There were so many moments in Catch Me Daddy that could have allowed the narrative of honour killing to not become one that intersected with a whole sale demonization of South Asian immigrants in Europe. These were the moments that, until the denouement, made the film compelling. The white bounty hunter Barry pisses on his hand before he shakes hands with his South Asian allies; later, in a moment of cocaine-addled rage, he hatchet murders Aaron. Or those moments where Aaron, despite being Laila’s boyfriend, refers to her as a Paki, tries to assault a cab driver for speaking with her in a language he can’t understand, and exerts the same amount of control over her life as her father did – this is also an interesting moment that troubles the narrative.
But these potential interventions are eventually off-set: Barry is murdered by his Pakistani allies for no reason other than the fact that they are barbarous; Aaron’s death is a tragedy that leads to Laila’s capitulation. Meanwhile the Pakistanis are assaulting women (Aaron’s mother) and acting according to the supposed logic of their race. Barry and his parter, Tony, have no narrative rationality: they are simply despondent thugs who need money – Tony even has a brief moment of conscience where he temporarily rescues Laila from barbarism, though why he does so only to turn her in by himself is poorly explained by a drug problem. In the end we’re stuck with a denouement that reifies racism, particularly in the annoying final scene where Laila is ordered to hang herself and begins to babble like a child – all of which makes no sense based on the way she was characterized. The strong woman suddenly becomes a pure victim of patriarchy, lacking the very agency that set her apart at the beginning of the film.
Beautifully shot, acted, and constructed, though… But you know what they say about the aestheticization of politics.