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coming home in the dark


director: james ashcroft (debut)

starring: daniel gillies, erik thomson, miriama mcdowell and billy paratene


REVIEWER: nick tonkin

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.

Coming Home in the Dark is a tense and unnerving thriller directed by James Ashcroft, adapted by Ashcroft and Eli Kent from a short story by New Zealand author Owen Marshall. Making excellent use of its rural New Zealand setting, Dark cultivates a growing feeling of unease in the viewer throughout its runtime, through its strong atmosphere and confronting story.


Coming Home in the Dark begins with a family on a road trip through the country, exploring the world outside of city life. A picnic in an idyllic valley, with golden sun and picturesque views mark a poignant moment of bonding for the family, captured in an endearingly cheesy group photo by Mum’s DSLR camera atop a fence post on a timer.

The arrival of Mandrake and Tubbs at their picnic site shatters this moment, though what moves the needle from a scary, but brief robbery, to a waking nightmare for the family was the cry of Dad’s distinctive nickname. The attention of Mandrake and Tubbs zeroed on the father; they knew a Hoaggie once.


Coming Home in the Dark counts familiar faces among its cast, such as Erik Thomson and Miriama McDowell as couple Hoaggie and Jill. However, Daniel Gillies’ turn as Mandrake renders him unrecognisable. Menacing and unpredictable, neither Hoaggie or Jill know what to make of Mandrake despite how he tears through their life. His motives and intentions are difficult for the couple to derive - though it’s his actions that speak loudest.


Loaded with tension and an unnerving atmosphere, helped in no small way by strong night time cinematography, Coming Home in the Dark is a challenging film that pulls no punches. 


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