Coming Home in the Dark Movie Review
As bleak and nihilistic as they come, Coming Home in the Dark is powered by a chilling villain and nonstop suspense, though director James Ashcroft, in his feature-length debut, would have been best served to take a more restrained storytelling approach.
The movie begins with a family stopping for a picnic in the New Zealand wilderness, only to have their idyllic afternoon disrupted by two strangers who have less-than-good intentions. What ensues is a brutal road trip from hell, a dark, unrelenting journey into past secrets and unforgiving places.
Ashcroft lobs his biggest shocker in the first act, which sets the stage for everything to follow. In some ways, this works in Coming Home’s favor, making clear that nothing is off limits and that the family is truly in a life or death situation. But what happens is so dark and disturbing, and happens so early in the film, that the movie peaks way too soon. By the end, there’s little to look forward to, and the unrelenting pace of survival wears you down quickly.
And yet Coming Home in the Dark has plenty to like. Mandrake, played by Daniel Gillies, is an exceptional villain, a calmly menacing sociopath who enjoys playing with his prey before feasting on them. Gillies goes all in on the role, capitalizing on the opportunity to play such a disturbed and menacing creature of death.
But with the move Ashcroft makes in the first act, he arguably made the wrong kind of film. He maintains a high level of suspense and threat of death throughout, bouncing from one situation to the next where the protagonists attempt to flee, or fight. While not repetitive, their efforts seem futile, pushing the bounds of realism just due to the number of close calls and directional turns the story takes. Following what happens early, though, delivering a straightforward and violent thriller feels excessive. Would he have been better served to take a more restrained, pensive, and less action-oriented approach to the story, matching the wits of Mandrake against his victims in a more psychological game of cat-and-mouse?
We’ll never know. But as it stands, Coming Home in the Dark is an effective if not entirely satisfying thriller that unfortunately is a little too bleak for its own good.
This movie was reviewed as part of coverage of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.