When a peaceful picnic in rural New Zealand gets interrupted by two mysterious men, schoolteacher Hoagie (Erik ThomsonStorm Boy) and his family are irreversibly ripped apart and taken on a hellish joyride into the depths of the night.

James Ashcroft‘s ‘Coming Home in the Dark‘ kicks things off shockingly effective. A parent’s worst nightmare becomes real, but unknowingly is about to become even worse when the past gets dug up and Hoagie has to come to terms with the cruel events of thirty years ago. Partly revenge thriller, partly cat-and-mouse game, Ashcroft builds on from that killer opening, but starts to lose traction halfway in, leading to an anticlimactic ending considering the torture everyone’s being put through.

It’s frustrating, because Ashcroft’s film is particularly strong when it gets things right. The cinematography, score, use of natural surroundings and an ace performance by Daniel Gillies (Occupation: Rainfall), who plays hothead Mandrake, really make a difference. What pulls the film’s quality down is the runtime and dullishly long car scenes. The conversations/monologues really aren’t all that interesting and more than once destroy the tension that should explode in a satisfying climax, but alas.

Coming Home in the Dark is a stylishly brutal thriller, showcasing Ashcroft’s filmmaking skills. A horrific nighttime road trip to nowhere.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Reviewed on September 8, 2021 (screener provided by publicist). Rating: MA15+. Running time: 93 min.

PRODUCTION: A Light in the Dark Productions production. Producers: Desray Armstrong, Catherine Fitzgerald and Mike Minogue. Executive producer: James Ashcroft.

CREW: Director: James Ashcroft. Writers: James Ashcroft and Eli Kent (based on the short story by Owen Marshall). Editing: Annie Collins. Cinematography: Matt Henley.

CAST: Matthias Luafutu, Miriama McDowell, Erik Thomson, Daniel Gillies.

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