Coming Home in the Dark is a succinct portrayal of how a New Zealand day trip can bring in uninvited guests. The film directed by James Ashcroft is based on a short story written by Owen Marshall.
‘Coming Home in the Dark’ Plot Summary
Alan Aka Hoaggie (Erik Thomson) and Jill (Miriama McDowell) set out on a road trip with their sons Jordan (Frankie Paratene) and Maika (Billy Paratene). After reaching a nature reserve, they go on a hike followed by an afternoon picnic. Then along come Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and Tubs (Matthias Luafutu). Mandrake looks like he’s from the Wild West in his earth-covered coat. And Tubs is, well, taciturn, to say the least. Mandrake totes his rifle and talks enough to fill in for Tubs.
As Tubs starts taking the family’s belongings, Mandrake introduces himself in a way that provides a false impression that everything will be fine as long as the family listens to the duo. However, his cocking of the rifle sets a different tone altogether, which could have waited for some more time in the plot. And ultimately, with a pair of quick ceremonious gunshots that kill the two kids, they make it clear that there’s more to their ordeal.
There aren’t many twists in Coming Home in the Dark but rather a clear detailing of things in a way that maintains the movie’s steady pace without betraying interest over what’s next. Does Mandrake know about the family, or is he just another sadistic drifter? And slowly, as the night passes in the long night’s journey, Mandrake’s slow taunts reveal that his and Hoaggie’s pasts are entwined. And a bone of trauma is uncovered beneath all the blood and skin.
Some people may find that the film doesn’t get over the intrigue it time and again teases. We do come to know that Mandrake was abused as a child. We also come to know that Hoaggie knew about it or even participated in it. But no matter how cruel both these allusions are, they aren’t realized to their greatest extent throughout the film. We don’t know if Mandrake stalked Hoaggie and his family till the moment they arrived at the waterside or if it was just fate that brought them face to face. Some fine-tuning would have added to this part and thus made this thriller more intense.
Coming Home in the Dark may have the above-mentioned shortcomings. But they are eclipsed by the cast. And special thanks goes to Daniel Gillies, whose friendly yet cold and nasty throw of dialogues adds the perfect cunningness to his charm. And on the opposite side of the dynamic, we have Matthias Luafutu’s Tubs. He pulls it off completely with his facial expressions, something that is difficult, especially when there is so much rage and indifference to be portrayed, sometimes together.
Thomson can provide his character the much-needed everyman touch, a husband and a father who wants nothing more than to keep his family safe and will do whatever he can for it. McDowell does justice to her role as well, as small as it was. Her utter enraging grief coming out of the inability to do anything to save her kids is very much visible in her face, especially when she realizes in the car that her sons have been left behind dead.
The direction holds back in a perfect manner, clinging more towards a dusky atmosphere rather than opting for seldom-used grim set pieces or surroundings. Even the most visually shocking acts of violence are shown in wide-angle shots that take longer in their span. This is opposed to much shorter cuts, and close-up shots of the murder committed that we usually see and expect from such movies. Only in the movie’s final moments do we get a cathartic “shot” that leaves multiple fates hanging. However, the film leaves the audience in a lost sense of savage release that looks for a way home. Some find it, some don’t.
Brutal and blatant without being gratuitous, Coming Home in the Dark manages to keep its utterly horrifying nature at its brim. One might argue that the spark ignited by the cocking of Mandrake’s gun so early on in the plot may have led to its premature douse. But it doesn’t change the fact that the movie can deliver a chill that hits the spot.
Coming Home in the Dark is a 2021 Drama Thriller film directed by James Ashcroft.