Imagine going on a hike with your family through a scenic, sun-soaked New Zealand valley when your picturesque afternoon transforms into the worst imaginable nightmare scenario after a seemingly random encounter with two strangers. That is the premise of James Ashcroft’s feature directorial debut Coming Home in the Dark, a tense, suffocating, nail-biter anchored by a sinister performance from leading man Daniel Gillies based on a short story by Owen Marshall.
The first act almost immediately introduces the film’s central conceit as this family is terrorized by a pair of ruthless drifters that seemingly come from nowhere. An early act of sudden, brutal violence sets the tone for the rest of the film, and it lets you know that this movie will wade into the deep dark depths, never to return. From that moment, it doesn’t really let up. I will say that the middle section of the movie loses its way a little, but luckily it gets back on track by the third act and delivers a memorable ending on par with the first half of the movie.
It’s a little hard to review this without going into details because Coming Home in the Dark is one of those movies that is better enjoyed the less you know what to expect. I don’t think it’s wrong to say that Gillies is genuinely riveting here in perhaps his career-best performance.
His character is methodical, haunting and yet never appears to lose his composure. He commands the screen and adds a layer of taut tension that will put you on edge for the entire 90-minute runtime. His character, Mandrake, is one of those guys you feel is capable of anything, and that makes him, and the film as a whole, utterly unpredictable.
Coming Home in the Dark is everything you could want in a thriller; nothing is off-limits
On that note, it’s not a spoiler to say that this film slowly unravels a surprisingly nuanced take on the endless perpetuation of cycles of violence as related to a historic and devastating phenomenon. I’m putting that vaguely to prevent ruining the surprising twists and turns taken by this film.
And while I’ve mentioned Gillies’s performance here as the anchor of this film, it’s worth noting that the entire cast, which includes Erik Thomson, Miriama McDowell, Billy Paratene, Matthias Luafutu and Frankie Paratene, is exceptional, especially because this is a relatively subdued film in the sense that it hinges on the central performances. The performances are dynamic and keep you glued to the screen, even in the few places where the narrative falters.
And beyond that, the sound design and exceptional cinematography help tell this story and create the unrelenting tension and suspense that makes it impossible to look away for even a second. I can’t think of anything else you could want in a thriller that isn’t present in this movie.
The bottom line is that Coming Home in the Dark is a scary, white-knuckle thriller that trespasses into the darkest corners of the psyche and will haunt you long after the credits roll.
Coming Home in the Dark releases in select theaters and VOD on October 1. You can also pre-order the Blu-ray right now on Amazon.