Sundance 2021: “Coming Home in The Dark”

By Valerie Thompson

Our past does more than define us, it leaves scars. The definitive moments which create these blemishes define every detail of Coming Home in the Dark. James Ashcroft’s new film might seem like a road trip gone wrong, yet its core reaches towards much more disturbing themes. From the outset viewers are greeted with usual road trip visuals. Early sequences take pleasure in making someone believe normality is the course as a seemingly perfect family descends into New Zealand’s wondrous natural landscape. Out of nowhere the terror begins and a robbery leads to something devastating.

There’s a torturous nature to the first two murders of the film; the speed at which they occur sets a tone for where the story is going, not who will be there. The loss of both younger family members coming after some semblance that they could make it through the nightmare has its own haunting quality. Taking them out of the narrative also speaks to what Ashcroft’s film is really talking about, a loss of innocence. It’s a connective thread between what fuels the criminal duo led by Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) to go further with each step. 

To understand the ties that bind these characters relies on understanding a part of New Zealand history. The country was shocked by a sex abuse scandal that dated back decades. Catholic priests operating at Christchurch based location assaulted male students, with little to no consequences for their actions. When all was said and done, numerous former students were left with their own mental and physical scars from their ordeal. 

Each important detail of the film comes in slow, sparing moments. It is a surprisingly effective way to subvert standard tropes, requiring the viewer to pay attention while gathering plot points with heightened focus. Something as boring as a character’s profession ultimately becomes a revelation yet to unfold. For the father, Hoaggie (Erik Thomson), this disclosure leads to a brutal underpass confession with devastating consequences. The scene also puts everyone on notice that no easily defined antagonists and protagonists are on this journey. 

The film also delves into the lives of those around us as well as the levels of trust we assign. Family members unravel with a deep sense that no one really knew each other. A wife is left reeling at the faux family persona built on a husband’s own deviations. Sons diverge from their parents in a normal rite of passage, yet fail to understand what is really driving them apart. Even Mandrake and Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) find themselves in a mode of discovery; once connected by their past, one of the pair soon finds himself at odds with the spiraling narrative. A particular set of gruesome deaths key in on his growing disgust, even as he continues to carry on with the murderous spree. 

Darkness is literally a part of the story itself. From the glowing day that greets the family to the bleak night which accompanies the painful journey, it’s hard not to notice the stark contrast at work. After all, darkness is what keeps many secrets hidden. Be it bleakness or just keeping secrets in the shadows, the void is always there. The slightest glimmers of light that make their way into the film’s gloom is best illustrated from one striking sequence. Jill (Miriama McDowell) looks back in the rearview mirror to see glimpses of her now lost sons reflected among the brake light’s red glow. The shot seems both a reminder of the bygone chasing down what is left of the car’s occupants and reminders of another life never to be seen again. After all, the past is never far behind. 

Thanks so much for reading. Coming Home in the Dark was viewed as part of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Check it out and share this with your horror loving friends! Follow creepylovely on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you would like to write for us just shoot us a private message or DM on social media. Stay lovely! Stay creepy!

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