Fantasia 2021: Coming Home in the Dark Leaves Nothing Off-Limits & No One Safe
Jon Mendelsohn
Serving as the directorial debut of actor James Ashcroft, Coming Home in the Dark is as bleak a thriller as they come. Any rules that are usually associated with survival horror are thrown out the window. No character leaves the film totally unscathed. Coming Home in the Dark is an extremely cruel film and not an easy watch. However, all of the atrocities committed on-screen are executed with real intent and tells an intelligently disheartening tale of vengeance.
The plot of this film could be described as a cross between The River Wild and the Australian shocker Wolf Creek; however, this film's realistic brutality definitely surpasses both. It's not that the film is extremely gory but so emotionally devastating that it makes Saw feel like child's play. Coming Home in the Dark follows Hoaggie (Erik Thomson), a school teacher on a road trip with his wife Jill (Miriama McDowell) and their two teenage sons. Soon, the family encounters two drifters, Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and Tubs (Matthias Luafutu), who take the family on a nightmarish road trip as the family desperately searches for a way to survive.
The tension in this film is palpable and never-ending. In its opening scene, and before the disturbing nature of the plot takes focus, voyeuristic shots of the family exploring New Zealand create a brooding atmosphere. Once the brutality starts, there's no going back, and the viewer is trapped in a nightmare where anything can happen. The crisp cinematography mixed with an unsettling sound design further pushes this film into a meditation on suffering. That being said, if the viewer can make it to the end, they'll witness an extremely well-done piece of cinema where no character is the "good guy" and everyone has something to hide.
The performances in this film hold it together beautifully. While the entire cast is strong, Daniel Gillies delivers a star-making performance as the sadistic Mandrake. His calm demeanor while committing horrific acts is nothing short of unnerving. Gillies showcases brilliant range as he portrays a psychopath who is genuinely having a good time. Thomson and McDowell are also great, with Thomson successfully delivering the role of an unreliable protagonist, and McDowell depicting a mother pushed to her wit's end. The portrayals of the pair are so realistic that it's easy to forget that the film's horror is just make-believe.
A negative aspect of this highly effective thriller is that it explodes in its first act, leaving viewers shell-shocked. Although this could be a positive thing, the film, unfortunately, meanders in its murky middle. While things do culminate in a harrowing third act, the middle plays out like a melancholic descent into hell where the worst has already occurred.
Even though the film's entertainment value fluctuates, it still manages to end as a fully realized piece. The movie really challenges the morals of the audience and makes us question who is truly right and wrong. Justice in the mind of one character is an act of pure evil to another. The film showcases how perception and personal experience can drive a person to believe in their own actions, no matter how heinous they might actually be. Overall, Coming Home in the Dark is an unforgettable thriller that is chock full of great performances and shocking set-pieces that will linger in the viewers' minds for a long while.
Directed by James Ashcroft and co-written by Ashcroft and Eli Kent, Coming Home in the Dark will be available to stream in Canada at Fantasia Fest from August 5-25.