Friday, October 01, 2021

Coming Home in the Dark

It is the land where they shot The Lord of the Rings, but this ultra-violent NZ film will make you think twice about visiting as a tourist. “Hoagie” Hoaganraad thought he would take his family on a nice driving tour, but instead he finds himself in a grim abduction drama that agonizingly unfolds during James Ashcroft’s Coming Home in the Dark, which opens today in New York.

Alan’s step-kids can tell from a distance the two ominous drifters will be trouble, but the talkative Mandrake and Tubs, his socially-stunted companion, are even worse than they can imagine. They do not merely rob the family, they start inflicting real, lasting pain. “Hoagie” tries to be cooperative, but it soon becomes clear they are not to be reasoned with. Thus begins a desperate struggle to survive.

However, the psychopaths are especially motivated, because they seem to recognize Hoaganraad—and they carry a grudge against him, for some mysterious sin from the past. Even though only about nine years separate the actors portraying Hoaganraad and Mandrake, it looks more like a gap of fifteen or twenty, so we can easily guess their grudge. Instead of shocking, it is all quite predictable and frankly rather boring. That also means the audience is essentially left with only his wife Jill to root for and identify with.

The relentlessly depressing violence Ashcroft and co-screenwriter Eli Kent constantly serve up will remind horror fans of the grisly Australian grindhouse film,
Killing Ground, but at least Coming Home also incorporates some effective cat-and-mouse business for Hoaganraad and Mandrake. Nevertheless, the film is still much more focused on shock than suspense.

Erik Thomson gives a visceral and uncomfortably believable performance as Hoaganraad and Matthias Luafutu’s silent-but-violent intensity as Tubs is pretty riveting stuff. Unfortunately, the constant chatter intended to sound like heavy Old Testament kind of pronouncements from Daniel Gillies’ Mandrake gets to be like fingernails on a blackboard—and not in an eerie horror movie kind of way.

Frankly, instead of grabbing hold of us, the film’s violent cruelty simply makes viewers zone out. It is skillfully executed by Ashcroft, but it still just couldn’t end soon enough. Honestly, it is hard to fathom why the film had so much high-profile festival play during the course of the year. Not recommended,
Coming Home in the Dark opens today (10/1) in New York, at the Cinema Village, with a simultaneous VOD release.