Director and co-writer James Ashcroft makes his feature debut with Coming Home in the Dark, a nasty little thriller. The movie doesn’t break any new ground – and doesn’t really try to – but will grab hold of you in moments that range from tense and thrilling to downright shocking. It’s a solid piece of genre filmmaking.
From the opening minutes, Coming Home in the Dark lets you know trouble is just around the corner. Hoaggie (Erik Thomson) and Jill (Miriama McDowell) are taking their two sons, Maika (Billy Paratene) and Jordan (Frankie Paratene), on a road trip winding around an empty highway. Tensions in the car start to rise, as they would for any family cramped in a car with nothing to do but get on each other’s nerves.
They pull off to the side for a picnic, and Jill spots two suspicious-looking men approaching them. Mandrake (Daniel Gilles) is tall and thin, but his presence is intimidating. He’s wearing a long trench coat and sporting an overwhelming mustache, and Hoaggie and Jill know almost immediately he and his sidekick Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) are up to no good.
“The two drifters force themselves into the family vacation the rest of the way…”
After a few moments of uneasy pleasantries, Mandrake reveals he has a rifle underneath his long jacket. At this point, the thriller is only minutes underway, and Ashcroft has you captured in the movie’s grip. Mandrake and Tubs’ actions go from threatening to shocking in no time, but it’s unclear for a while if their actions are calculated or random acts of psychopathic violence.
The two drifters force themselves into the family vacation the rest of the way, and Coming Home in the Dark becomes unbearably tense. It’s hard for filmmakers to sustain maximum anxiety for an entire runtime, but Ashcroft successfully uses his 90 minutes. You will be able to take a breath only once the credits roll.
Thomson and McDowell have the more emotionally draining roles to play, and their desperation and fear leap off the screen. Gillies steals the show as Mandrake, who is so eerily calm, even at the film’s most heightened moments. His performance plays a big role in what makes Coming Home in the Dark unsettling.
Some may not find the film to be anything special, and it certainly isn’t, as far as these kinds of movies go. There’s more shock than genuine surprises, but as a piece of midnight cinema, tailor-made for a group of friends at a drive-in during a cool summer night, Coming Home in the Dark meets the mark.
"…you will be able to take a breath only once the credits roll."