Dark Sky Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: James Ashcroft
Writer: Eli Kent, James Ashcroft, adapted from a short story by Owen Marshall
Cast: Daniel Gillies, Erik Thomson, Miriama McDowell, Matthias Luafutu
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/31/21
Opens: October 1, 2021

It’s not always necessary to identify with a character in any movie that you see, but it helps. Because I can relate to one of the players in the principal quartet, “Coming Home in the Dark” had special scares for me. You can see early on that this is a revenge picture when Alan “Hoaggie” Hoaganraad admits to be a teacher, clueing you in that Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) is out to get back at him for what happened twenty years ago. Given the ferocity of the sociopath who says he makes things disappear, I got to thinking: did I ever flunk a kid who deserved to pass? Did I refuse to write a college recommendation for someone who depended on me? Did I refuse to call on someone whose hand was up (as did Ferris Bueller in the final scene) and who desperately wanted to make a point? Given the hundreds of students that passed through my portals, it’s natural, is it not, that at, that some never forgot what I did to them?

Chickens come home to roost in “Coming Home in the Dark,” by Paraparaumu-born James Ashcroft, taking a break from his 37 acting credit to direct his first full-length narrative film. The movie is adapted from the awards-winning short story by Owen Marshall, who has a gift for finding excitement in the dialogue between villains and victims. The entire tale takes place at night in the greater Wellington area on a road that seems open almost exclusively to Hoaggie, his wife Jill (Miriama McDowell), and their teen sons Maika (Billy Paratene) and Jordan (Frankie Paratene). But the solitude of the road trip is interrupted by a police car, the driver given a ticket for speeding. The family could not have known how welcome that stop really was.

The second interruption occurs when enjoying a picnic under the stars, two men appear as though they had happened upon the family by coincidence. Mandrake goes most of the talking while his mostly silent partner Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) scowls, as he will do throughout the action—which takes places mostly within a vehicle. Threatened at rifle-point, the picnicking couple are horrified by what has happened to their two boys. Told simply that they are on their way “home,” the sociopaths stop at a gas station to the profound regret of its owner, then spend much of the time behind the wheel talking about Hoaggie is guilty of a dereliction of duty.

Escape attempts ensue, each one scheduled to lift members of the movie audience out of their seats, all leading to a surprise ending that leaves us questioning whether even in the distant pass we should have acted differently when witnessing evil. For example, though nobody (besides me) appears to have made this point, couldn’t one of the witnesses to George Floyd’s murder have risked bodily harm if instead of simply telling Derek Chauvin to stand down, he would simply step up to the officer and push him away from his victim?

“Coming Home in the Dark” works as both a thriller with breath-taking moments and a question about the nature of guilt. It is blessed with fine actors: you can really see the horror in Jill’s scream when she learns of the fate of her children, and the distrust she feels as well when learning about her husband’s guilt in an incident twenty years earlier. Her escape attempts are convincing as are Hoaggie’s pleas to the killers to let his wife go and then “do anything you want with me.”

One reservation and it’s a big one: if you are had not been brought up in New Zealand, you might cry out for English subtitles. Much of the dialogue is a strain to understand.

92 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *