Daughter is one of the latest thrillers to dive into the dark side of a culture. In our interview with star Elyse Dinh, she explains the movie’s exploration of motherhood, religion, and Vietnamese culture.
Directed and written by Corey Deshon, Daughter is available digitally and on demand now. The film will be released on DVD on May 9, 2023. The movie is shot on film, and it is a scary, thought-provoking, intense story.
Elyse Dinh plays “Mother”. Mother lives in a home controlled by “Father”, an unstable and disturbed religious man. They raise “Brother” together, and they kidnap women to fill the role of “Daughter”. Vivian Ngo plays Daughter, Casper Van Dien plays Father, and Ian Alexander plays Brother.
Daughter features Vietnamese women in major leading roles, who share multiple scenes where they speak entirely in Vietnamese. Elyse Dinh explains the origin of the movie, the importance of Vietnamese culture, and the process of creating “Mother” below.
DAUGHTER: ELYSE DINH EXPLAINS VIETNAM’S IMPORTANCE TO THE FILM
“Vivian Ngo and I, we have been doing this for some time and we feel like there’s a lot of sameness in the parts that are available to us or that we’re asked to audition for. It’s always about the Vietnam War, it’s related to that, it’s somewhere in the characters backstory.
We wanted to do something where that wasn’t the deal. We just wanted to make a weird little creepy thriller. It’s not war related, we’re not refugees, none of that is talked about. But we are proud of the fact that we are Vietnamese, we wanted to make it very clear that we are proud of our heritage.
We even speak it and have whole long scenes speaking it. We’re also just people trying to survive, there’s no war, we speak without any accents, that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to do this because we wanted to expand what we get to do normally.
I know what it’s like to be a survivor because I’ve been in this business for decades, just to navigate and survive in the film industry and try to have a career and make a living, that is its own struggle. I am also a Vietnamese refugee so I know what it’s like.
My mother, my sister, my aunt, my grandmother were all survivors. So that’s easy, I didn’t have to google any of that to know what it feels like. And the rest of it was doing the regular actorly prep. Filling out how Mother feels, how she feels about each person. So that I’m clear when I’m interacting with them that I am that aspect, I show them that face.
Also filling in the space when she isn’t speaking. You know how you’re at a party and you’re just observing? Mother is kind of like that, she has scenes where she’s just kind of observing, and I wanted to make sure to keep her alive and present in every scene. What is she thinking? Have an opinion about everything.”– Elyse Dinh
Daughter is one of those special projects that can only exist in the independent filmmaking space. This is a movie that features four characters who spend most of their time in a house together. But it is incredibly gripping and stressful, holding your attention from start to finish. Three of the four actors were cast before the script was even written. And the chemistry of the entire group is immaculate. Special stories like this, especially ones that feature Vietnamese representation, are unfortunately rare in Hollywood.
The stories that do exist in the world of blockbusters focus on Vietnam through the lens of the Vietnam War, as Elyse pointed out. Daughter carves its own path, telling a powerful, emotional story with Vietnamese cast, crew and influence while never mentioning the War. Mother, Daughter and Brother are survivors, but they’re surviving through a very different type of story. That is a refreshing change of pace that should be reflected in Hollywood someday, if they truly want to improve in terms of diversity and representation.
Daughter does not name the religion that Father is practicing and preaching to his twisted “Family”. He reads from a spiritual book and gives routine lessons about faith, sickness, and the dangers of the outside world. When his explanation of scripture is challenged, it is always met with an unpleasant response (to say the least). Elyse Dinh spoke about the religious commentary that lies at the heart of Daughter.
DAUGHTER: THE HORROR OF RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM
“With any kind of religion, if you take it too far, it turns into something that is not positive. I think that religion exists because people need to hang onto something and they need faith to get through a very difficult life. I myself was raised Catholic, I went to Catholic school when I was living in Vietnam so I understand. With any kind of religion if you take it too far, you become a zealot. You’re not just some kind of faithful follower, you’re now a zealot, and that becomes very dangerous. We’ve seen this over and over again.
That’s why at the beginning of the movie, it says this is based “on more fact than fiction”. Corey Deshon isn’t joking when he says that. It’s very common. We’ve heard of cults, people keep saying the bible is “this”, but they misinterpret it and they twist it to their own beliefs. They choose it and that’s not really…sometimes i think “Is that really what the bible says? I don’t think so”, But people are very capable of twisting it to what they want and use it to cause harm.” -Elyse Dinh
Religion is not a bad thing by itself. Many people live happy lives filled with faith, scripture, prayer, and more. Belief in a higher power is what drives many of us to do better, and to try our best as human beings. Unfortunately, there is no light without darkness. Religious extremism has been hurting people, even costing lives for as long as religion has existed. To say that Daughter is an exploration of religious radicalism would be an oversimplification, but that is certainly a key part of the movie.
Father’s history is a mystery. The world outside of the home when we see it is a mystery. We don’t know what made this man the way he is, or what drove him to kidnap and murder. What we do know is that faith motivates Father, even causing him to lash out in violence. Father has faith that the world outside is sick, diseased, even infectious. The consequence of his belief causes serious, lasting harm to Mother and the whole “family”.
The sad truth is that radical, religious American adults like Father exist today. Their lives may not be as hyperbolic as the story presented in “Daughter“, but the damage their “faith” causes to their children and spouses is tragically real. Elyse Dinh provides further insight on motherhood and gender roles in Daughter below.
ELYSE DINH: DAUGHTER SENDS A STRONG MESSAGE ABOUT MOTHERHOOD
“I’m not a mother so I can’t even talk deeply about being a mother or what motherhood means to me because I don’t have children. Society expects women to be mothers. Just like father forces Mother to be a mother in that very weird nuclear unit. I decided that maybe in her life before she was brought to the house, maybe she didn’t want to be a mother, she kind of resents the fact that he literally chains her up and forces her to cook, which is a very traditional role that is expected of women. You have to cook for me, you have to be “Mother”, and you have to mother these children.
They’re not her children! She could have had a thriving career before. So I decided that she never had motherhood in part of her life goals. She was some corporate woman who loved her career and now she’s here. So if it has some kind of commentary, it is “don’t put women in that box”. Don’t expect every woman to have that motherhood role. You can choose not to do that, and that’s OK.”-Elyse Dinh
For the vast majority of its existence, the “American Dream” has been a patriarchal one. Male dominance was a constant, pervasive element of the prototypical nuclear American family. The husband/father was the breadwinner with the career, and the wife/mother was a housekeeper, cook, maid, and caretaker. We don’t know when Daughter is set thanks to the timeless quality of the filmmaking. But it seems like it could be from a time in America’s recent past when this tragically misogynistic and male-serving way of life was the standard.
Regardless of when the movie is actually set, Mother’s secret backstory is always heartbreaking. Elyse Dinh created a backstory for her character & performance where she escaped societal expectations of motherhood and became a career woman who excelled at her job. Father took that from her by placing her into this tiny box of “wife/mother”. He ruined the life that she wanted with his sexist expectations of what a family needs to be.
Few things in life are more heartbreaking than life ruined by a toxic patriarchy. Daughter is a complicated, mind-bending movie with some powerful messages about inclusion, family culture, gendered expectations and so much more.
What did you think of Elyse Dinh’s words on Daughter? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media!