Enjoying a road-trip amongst the beauty of rural New Zealand, an innocent family of four run into two bandit-like characters in the slow burn thriller Coming Home in the Dark. The strangers (Daniel Gillies, Matthias Luafutu) suddenly appearance and hostile attitude, which gradually devolves into violence, seems random and unprovoked at first. However, as the film begins to explore long-standing problems in both New Zealand and Australia, including a corrupt youth welfare system, it becomes clear these men did not pick this family at random.

After several short films, Kiwi James Ashcroft delivers a dark genre-bender for his debut feature film. One filled with suspense and an extremely dark sense of humour. This variety is impressively blended, the only issue being that it occasionally comes at the cost of character development. It takes away from the further insight that could have been added to how the two men’s past intertwines with the former teacher and family patriarch Hoaggie (Erik Thomson). Considering how emotionally draining plot is, the lack of deeper character development and the few predictable moments, these flaws are hard to ignore.

While the characters may be a little shallow, Ashcroft does a good job of how of showing how the youth welfare system can affect a person’s life. Growing up without a family and experiencing a void of any emotional nourishment, almost guarantees instability of some sort in one’s adult life. These are hardly excuses for the brutal behavior both men exhibit, but at the same time their past renders most of their present actions as both believable and understandable. The screenplay truly excels in this regard as it paints a dark picture while still managing to make the viewer feel some empathy for these two ruthless killers.

Despite its faults, Ashcroft’s debut impresses in many ways. The fact that Coming Home in the Dark manages to be darkly funny despite the subject matter is quite the achievement. Though Ashcroft attempt to fit a little too much into his film at times, he is clearly a director who has a promising future.