Saturday, October 15, 2022

#2,838. Coming Home in the Dark (2021)


Director James Ashcroft’s 2021 horror / thriller Coming Home in the Dark is a bleak motion picture. Events unravel quickly, and a lot of what transpires is difficult to watch. There was even a moment early on, following a particularly intense scene, that I considered switching it off.

I’ve seen my share of disturbing movies, but right out of the gate I knew Coming Home in the Dark would shake me. And yet, it is so skillfully executed by Ashcroft and company that I couldn’t stop watching.

I wanted to. I really did. But I couldn’t.

School teacher “Hoaggie” Hoaganraad (Erik Thomson) is enjoying a day trip in the country with wife Jill (Miriama McDowell) and her teenage sons from a previous marriage, Maika (Billy Paratene) and Jordan (Frankie Paratine), when two apparent drifters, Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) crash their party. What begins as an uncomfortable encounter quickly escalates when Mandrake pulls out a rifle and tells the frightened family to lie face-down on the ground.

This kicks off what can only be described as the evening from hell, with Mandrake and Tubs loading their hostages into the family vehicle and driving it at top-speed across New Zealand. But a secret from Hoaggie’s past will soon be revealed, and all at once Jill starts to wonder if their run-in with the sadistic Mandrake was as random as it first seemed.

The entire cast of Coming Home in the Dark is in top form, with Miriama McDowell giving an especially heartbreaking performance as Jill, the wife / mother who finds herself caught up in a nightmare. Yet the standout is Daniel Gillies as Mandrake, whose calm demeanor throughout makes his character’s actions all the more unsettling. From the moment he first approaches Hoaggie and family, we know Mandrake is a loose cannon, and it isn’t long before we despise him.

Yet what is truly fascinating about Coming Home in the Dark is how our feelings eventually change, starting the moment Hoaggie, who believes Mandrake and Tubs may have once been incarcerated in a group home for troubled boys, a place he himself had worked at years earlier, tells a story from his time there. From this point on, our emotions, our sympathies, our reactions to what is playing out in front of us shift, and while we still despise Mandrake (whose brutality knows no bounds), we suddenly see both he and Tubs in an entirely different light.

Having watched Coming Home in the Dark less than an hour ago, I have no idea how to go about recommending it. It’s a movie I know I’ll be thinking about for days, and my take on it could very well change a half-dozen times as I replay it in my head.

What I can say is it is an extraordinarily crafted motion picture, beautifully shot (the New Zealand countryside is breathtaking) with performances that approach brilliance. Based on this, you’ll have to make up your own mind as to whether or not Coming Home in the Dark is for you. I’m still not 100% sure where I stand, and it might be for a while before I am.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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