A school teacher is forced to confront a brutal act from his past when a pair of ruthless drifters takes him and his family on a nightmare road-trip.

Cast:  Erik Thomson, Daniel Gillies, Miriama McDowell, Matthias Luafutu, Billy Paratene, Frankie Paratene

Directors: James Ashcroft
Writers: James Ashcroft, Eli Kent, Owen Marshall (based on the short story by)

Beautiful backdrops and vistas in Coming Home in the Dark don’t save it from becoming one of the most intense thrillers of the year featuring a disgusting and utterly memorable villain. Even if it falls into some stock-standard thriller tropes, the direction and performances elevate the film into the must-watch territory.

Hoaggie (Erik Thomson) is on holiday with his wife, Jill (Miriama McDowell) and two sons, Maika (Billy Paratene) and Jordan (Franki Paratene). Other than the kids lost in their phones, everything seems to be going well until a secluded picnic is interrupted by Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and Tubs (Matthias Luafutu)The two men have seemingly appeared out of thin air to begin to terrorise the family. They’re shoved into a car backseat, and a road trip of terror begins, with no known destination insight. The question becomes about what Hoaggie is willing to do to protect his family, just as much as it’s what does Mandrake and Tubs want from the family?

Daniel Gillies’ Mandrake, is scene-stealing every moment in Coming Home in the Dark, and it’s impossible to look away from him as he monologues or stares off into the distance with a dark and deep desire buried in his eyes. His introduction to the family is particularly memorable as cinematographer Matt Hanley paints Gillies against a sunset and keeping Mandrake as mysterious as possible. When Mandrake reveals himself it’s only as the sunset has begun and as the dark night is about to begin.  

As the layers of Coming Home in the Dark begin to peel away, the movie becomes about more than just a thrilling car ride and kidnapping. The film points the camera squarely at a dark underside of New Zealand’s past and asks some hard-hitting questions. Are you as guilty as those around you: not for participating in an evil act, but for choosing not to intervene? 

Although the thrilling opening of the film is shot wonderfully and the evil charisma of Gillies bouncing off the all-around family man performance of Erik Thomson is excellent, it’s when the film reveals its true nature that it begins to stand apart. Unfortunately, it doesn’t wrap up the film’s last act as strong as it started or settled in the mid-point. Coming Home in the Dark does falter by falling to some traditional thriller tropes. I would have prefered to have seen the movie double down on the film’s themes in the final act and give a less ambiguous ending. I wanted less of a question left hanging in the room and more of a statement from director James Ashcroft

Coming Home in the Dark is a thriller set against the usually beautiful backdrop of New Zealand that takes you into a dark and hushed discussion of the countries past. With Daniel Gillies in the driver’s seat, you’re in for a wild ride and a must-watch thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Coming Home in the Dark was screened online as part of MIFF Play. The film currently has a cinema release date of 09/09/2021