Patrick Wilson is often thought of as the Horror Daddy, both in the sense of literal fatherhood and in the sense that he is an attractive older gentleman who emulates a comforting sense of maturity and sex appeal (yes I am primarily talking about his sideburns from The Conjuring). From a haunted dad in the Insidious films to God’s warrior Ed Warren in The Conjuring franchise, Wilson has won over our hearts with his sensual tenderness.
However, Wilson has taken the spotlight for far too long. There is a new contender for horror’s best daddy: Ethan Hawke.
While Hawke hasn’t had the support of several successful franchises under his belt, his performances in the genre as a father and hot older man in Sinister, The Purge, and Daybreakers prove that he can hold his own against the Wilson powerhouse. While Wilson has sideburns, Hawke has giant dad sweaters and wide-rimmed glasses to prove that he’s not like most dads; he’s a cool and hot dad.
Unlike Wilson, who typically plays a supportive dad who makes good choices for his family and is the savior, Hawke portrays the much more interesting opposite figure, one who makes questionably selfish choices that lead to his demise and his family’s endangerment. Sure, that’s not the father figure often seen in horror, but that’s the father figure I want to see. I want more of this brand of dad that actively makes bad decisions. This way, we can have two Horror Daddies, one who emulates righteousness and another who emulates good intentions yet poor execution.
Hawke has dabbled in the genre throughout his career, but his first big moment as a horror daddy is in a role where he is not a father at all, but merely emulates the ethos of the title. In the 2009 film Daybreakers, Hawke plays Edward Dalton, a vampire who lives in a world where a virus has turned almost the entire human population into blood drinkers. In this sanguine society, Dalton is the chief hematologist for a pharmaceutical company trying to create a blood substitute to prevent global starvation. Dalton is dedicated to this mission not to save himself, but to keep the human race from going extinct. He himself refuses to drink human blood as he empathizes with those who still have beating hearts.
With the film opening on the tenth iteration of Dalton’s 35th birthday, Hawke is a sensitive older man whose doe eyes scream “let me sit and hold your hand while you tell me about your hard day at work.” There is just an aura of care and strength in the face of the unknown in Hawke’s performance that creates that figurative Daddy persona. To quote Ari Aster’s Midsommar, I feel held by him.
Then came Sinister in 2012, which has been described as one of the scariest films of all time due to its haunting demon, numerous jump scares, and shocking scenes of violence. Here, Hawke plays true crime author Ellison Oswald, who moves his family into a new house where a series of horrific murders occurred.
No, he doesn’t tell them that, he wants to protect them (at least that’s what he thinks he’s doing). Between being a writer and a father of two, Oswald has an impressively hot dad wardrobe that includes giant patterned cardigans that he wraps closely around him as he watches haunting footage of a child killing their family. Thick black frames accentuate that chiseled dad facial structure and go perfectly with his cups of morning coffee or glasses of late night scotch.
As he discovers there’s something more sinister in this house than just a bloody past, he doesn’t stop digging. His kids have night terrors, they draw horrific death scenes on the walls, and they struggle with bullying at school since they live in the murder house. Nothing about Ellison’s decisions scream father of the year and yet all he wants is to provide for his family. If he can write another amazing book, they won’t need to worry about money. But the cost here is pretty damn high, and his actions ultimately lead to both his death and the death of his wife and son.
Most recently, Hawke played Horror Daddy in the 2013 film The Purge, where for one night a year, all crime is legal.
Hawke plays James Sandin, a wealthy businessman who lives in a highly secure home with his wife and two children. In his mind, not unlike in Sinister, money is the best way he can provide for his family. That money makes their home safe during the annual purge. Until it doesn’t. While he thinks he’s doing the right thing to save a man screaming for help, he actually invites violence into his home and endangers his own family.
But he does try to atone for those sins as we see him move from expensive suits to tight white t-shirts that accentuate those biceps while he wields a baseball bat to keep his loved ones safe. Just as in Daybreakers and Sinister, this Daddy aesthetic is matched with a well-meaning empathy and loyalty that matters most when dealing with the horrific. No matter what, his family is everything and he makes the ultimate sacrifice to ensure their survival.
On top of these three roles that illustrate Hawke’s literal and metaphorical paternal energy in the face of terror, he also has a widespread appeal due to his work across genres and award-nominated performances; he has potential to usher in a new horror franchise that would reach new audiences and fans that may not be as familiar with the genre. Yes, Wilson has cornered his niche and is known as Horror Daddy #1, but there’s plenty of room at the table. Hawke deserves to pull up a seat, give Wilson a firm handshake, and tell a corny joke. We need more horror daddies, after all.