A family of four are on a road trip. The father, Alan (Erik Thomson), the mother, Jill (Miriama McDowell) and their two teenage sons Jorden (Frankie Paratene) and Maika (Billy Paratene), are travelling through New Zealand. We witness the general interactions of this family while they are on the road, doing the normal things like taking family photos at various locations, pit stops at petrol stations, and the list goes on. But while travelling the family decide to take a break and share a meal and a nice view. All of this is great until two strangers named Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) & Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) approach the family.
Mandrake and his fellow partner are not just interrupting this family because they are bored or seeking thrills. Shortly after their introduction, a horrific tragedy occurs, and this family is now held hostage against their will. For Mandrake, his intentions are mysterious and vague. Still, as the night continues, this family will make some shocking discoveries that relate to Mandrake’s past and his reasoning for what he’s doing.
Coming Home in the Dark begins well with a simple yet highly effective plot. Once the character Mandrake arrives on-screen holding a shotgun, the tone radically changed, and honestly, some moments left me with my jaw wide open as I was surprised at the risks and direction taken. The film also presents elements that may seem vague at first such as mysteries and reasons for Mandrake’s and his partner targeting such a kind-hearted family. I found myself invested in the characters within the family, and I was passionate to know what the outcomes would be by the end of this film.
Performances throughout the film are praiseworthy, with actor Daniel Gillies delivering what I easily deem as his best performance playing the mysterious character Mandrake. I found his presence on-screen highly unsettling and extremely threatening. Side performances are also quite positive given the premise and situation.
Pacing for the majority is great. I found the film’s opening got underway rather quickly, and I found the finale to be a major roller coaster ride that filled me with both tension and emotion. But unfortunately, my biggest issue with the film was within the second act, which I felt slowed right down.
Overall, this is a brutal, dramatic, tense, and unsettling film. Performances are certainly praiseworthy, especially from Daniel Gillies. Gillies doesn’t just deliver a good performance; it’s a tremendous one and possibly his best within his career. The plot is engaging, and I certainly found myself committed to seeing the outcome for our family. The only major issues I had with this film was when some moments felt they slowed down in the film’s pace, but no matter, it still left me quite stunned, and it’s certainly been sitting heavily on my heart since seeing it. Coming Home in the Dark (2021) is Available in Australian Cinemas from September 9th.