Review: Coming Home in the Dark is brutal, haunting and excellent storytelling

In a year already blooming with a juicy crop of New Zealand films, adding another to the fray just shows the length and depth of local storytelling.

Coming Home in the Dark is exactly that; excellent storytelling, gifting us yet another debut filmmaker to watch before Hollywood steals him. And believe me they're already knocking on James Ashcroft's front door.

Shot in 20 days, mostly at night, and with a singular vision and aesthetic, this horror thriller is physically and emotionally an undeniably brutal watch and by crikey it's good.

Based on a short story from New Zealand author Owen Marshall, Ashcroft and his writing collaborator Eli Kent flesh out the bones for the big screen, staying loyal to the lean and linear vision narratively as well as visually. 

The premise is, in a way, a simple one. A couple and their two teenage boys hit the highway and head into a rugged and remote hinterland to climb a decent hill as part of their family roadie. There's the usual backseat brothers bickering and front seat parental passive aggressive driver versus navigator situations, before they stride forth amicably into the great outdoors.

Admirably this story doesn't waste time lulling us all into a false sense of security, everything feels ominous from the get-go and things head shockingly south swiftly and mercilessly, the relentless downward spiral punctuated by some truly savage plot shifts. 

LA-based actor Daniel Gillies is Mandrake, the main protagonist who dominates from the moment he walks into shot, his constant haunting companion Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) lurking at his elbow.

As the pair stands above our bewildered family, interrupted as they sit eating their picnic dinner, there's little doubt their intentions aren't good. But never in my worst nightmare did I imagine how 'not good' they were.

To dig deeper would plunge us unforgivably into spoiler territory and this film deserves to be savoured with as little previewing insight as possible. It's R16, the violence is sudden and remorseless, the dark broken heart of the story far more scarring.

Anchored by a truly terrifying performance from Daniel Gillies and equally memorable and affecting outing from Matthias Luafutu, I know one thing is certain; I won't be coming home in the dark on my own anytime soon.

Four-and-a-half stars.