A schoolteacher with a sketchy past and his family get thrown into a twist-filled thrill-ride that really delivers in Coming Home in the Dark.
New Zealand cinema is an underappreciated gem of an industry. Not many international markets would initially associate quality films with Australia’s southern neighbour, but here we are. A genre quickly gaining notoriety in NZ would be the horror/thriller genre, with many filmmakers taking a stab at some truly terrifying concepts. This movie is another diamond in the ever-growing genre coming out of the country.
Director James Ashcroft expertly utilises the essential elements given to him to craft an incredibly intense and often disturbing story that never lets up. These elements include a small cast of highly talented actors and a familiar yet effective script. Not one character in this story feels underdeveloped. The mysteries and twists accompanying them are truly satisfying from a storytelling point of view, with every one of the plot points feeling earned and genuinely surprising above all else.
Ashcroft being cut from a highly credited acting cloth deals with his selected talent on screen in a way that makes the characters feel lived-in. The sketchy backstory of the film’s lead, played devastatingly well by Canadian-Kiwi Daniel Gillies, is a great way to frame the entire character and his journey through the hell that he and his family are put through makes for very compelling viewing.
The weaker elements of the film come, unsurprisingly, from the technical aspects. Most of the film has a very clean look, and in some scenes, that can make for some beautiful vistas; the New Zealand countryside never disappoints. Unfortunately, this slick look ultimately works against the project, making some of the more intense scenes feel less effective than the director intended. A far more gritty, grainy and dirty edge to the cinematography would have significantly improved the overall effectiveness of this otherwise intense film.
Coming Home in the Dark acts as a reminder that a slick horror film is nowhere near as effective as the grimier efforts that came before it. Where the movie shines in character work and plotting, it falters in some pacing issues and an overall lack of that horror squirm-fest charm that many modern thrillers lack these days.
Coming Home in the Dark is James Ashcroft’s directorial debut.