SUNDANCE 2021 PREMIERE – COMING HOME IN THE DARK begins with presenting happy parents Hoagie (Erik Thomson) and Jill (Miriama McDowell) venturing off into the New Zealand countryside with their teenage boys Maika (Billy Paratene) and Jordan (Frankie Paratene) utterly clueless as to the dangers that will soon befall them. It is at about sunset, during a lakeside picnic that creepy wanderers Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) happen upon the four carrying a heavy firearm and making some imposing threats. Mystery surrounds their actions as much as the history of our happy family and before you know it, they are heading back home at gunpoint long after the sun has set. James Ashcroft directs a brutal suspense thriller from a script that he co-wrote with Eli Kent that keeps us as much in the dark as possible while continuously ratcheting up the suspense.
The title is as much a metaphor as anything with the distraught family trapped in a car careening down a winding two-lane highway in the dark. The closer that they get to the destination, the more we learn. Why these criminals, why this family, where are they really headed? The film slowly peels back revelations against a merciless level of tension holding back as much as possible while still keeping us in step with what is going on. It’s a tricky balance that Ashcroft and Kent pull off admirably. They treat the kidnapping as a MacGuffin keeping moments of drama confined to small moments along the way.
Performances all around are stellar with the film going to Another fine note is the technical work on the film highlighted by Erik Thomson‘s layered moments of desperation as Hoagie and Daniel Gillies‘ icy cold Mandrake. The two mentally spare with one another in subtle ways that leave you unnerved, to say the least. Tech specs are all-around top-notch with notable accomplishments in Matt Henley’s low light photography. Too Annie Collins editing snaps between the characters with razor-sharp precision and rhythm.
In the end, however, this is a film about the irrevocable nature of regret and the monumental weight that the past can hold on the future. Dark, violent, and in some moments strangely resonant, COMING HOME IN THE DARK is a much smarter suspense thriller than we are used to that catches all of the moments just right. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, so-to-speak, but for those who love a good, violent, kidnap, road trip movie, this one is for you.
Norm(an) Gidney is a nearly lifelong horror fan. Beginning his love for the scare at the age of 5 by watching John Carpenter's Halloween, he set out on a quest to share his passion for all things spooky with the rest of the world.