James Ashcroft, who also co-wrote the script with Eli Kent, directed the New Zealand psychological thriller “Coming Home in the Dark,” which was based on an Owen Marshall short story of the same name. It had its world premiere in January (through /Film) at the Sundance Film Festival and is currently viewable on Netflix.

A family road vacation that soon becomes tragic and terrifying for Alan (Erik Thomson), his wife Jill (Miriam McDowell), and their two boys, Jordan (Frankie Paratene) and Maika (Miriam McDowell), is the main plot of the movie (Billy Paratene). The four members of the family are enjoying a quiet picnic by the water when Mandrake (Daniel Gillies of “The Vampire Diaries” fame) and Tubs unexpectedly approach them (Matthias Luafutu). The family instantly understands that they are in danger when Mandrake shows that he possesses a firearm. Mandrake calls Alan “Hoagie,” which turns out to be an old nickname of his, leaving Alan uneasy and perplexed.

Coming Home In The Dark

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Mandrake suddenly shot and killed both of Alan and Jill’s boys in a matter of minutes. After that, Mandrake forces Alan and Jill back into their car as his true intentions start to emerge. Mandrake’s childhood maltreatment by instructors at his boys’ school is disclosed, and Alan, who was an assistant teacher there at the time, may have been implicated. Although Alan and Jill are adamant that Alan was not one of the abusers, Mandrake’s cruel treatment of them, especially Alan, raises the possibility that not only is there more to the narrative but also that their encounter was not as chance as it first appeared.

Please call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or utilize their live chat services if you believe that you or someone you know may be a victim of child abuse.

What it costs to do nothing

Alan and Jill are made to kneel by the side of the road by Mandrake after a botched escape attempt ends in the unnecessary murder of a gas station employee. Mandrake then demands to know what Alan did while he was a teacher at Mandrake’s previous school. Alan dejectedly acknowledges that while he was a student there, he saw plenty of abuse, including incidents of sexual assault and flogging.

Alan admits there was one specific instance he saw firsthand when Mandrake presses for additional details. He says that in order to conduct roll call, all of the school’s boys used to line up on the four-square court of the playground. When the school was short-staffed, Alan, an assistant teacher, had to participate in the process even though he wasn’t usually involved.

The day Alan volunteered, one of the school’s instructors saw that a little child had inked a swastika on his body, and she insisted that someone bring them a wire brush. The instructor started to clean the boy’s tattoo while he yelled out in agony and screamed in anguish. Alan, though, did little more than observe. When Alan is corrected by Mandrake that the instructor had scrubbed away the child’s tattoo with a nylon brush rather than a wire brush, Mandrake confesses that he is the mysterious youngster.

Then it becomes obvious that Mandrake sees no distinction between doing something horrible and watching it happen. As a result, Alan’s unwillingness to act when Mandrake was being mistreated is what led to him subjecting Alan and Jill to torture and eventually killing their children.

Help is available if you or someone you know has experienced a sexual assault. Visit the website of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network or call the National Helpline of RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The online world is the end.

Soon after Alan confesses, Jill jumps off a cliff and into the ocean below (it is unknown if she perished), leaving Alan to deal with the fallout from his past mistakes. Alan and Tubs are brought back to the now-abandoned school where it all started by Mandrake. When Mandrake was being mistreated there, Alan acknowledges that he reacted cowardly but also claims that he believed the little kid deserved it.

When Alan obeys Mandrake’s command to stand “online,” Mandrake shoots Alan with his gun. While lying on the ground with a bullet wound to the side of his stomach, Alan manages to pick up a rock and almost kills Mandrake with it. Mandrake tries to fire him again, but Alan decides not to seize the weapon and starts to crawl away.

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Mandrake is instantaneously killed as Tubs approaches the two injured guys with the gun and shoots them in the head. Then, instead of killing Alan, he simply approaches him and says, “I despise this place,” before turning around and leaving.

Like his wife, Alan’s destiny is left unresolved. However, it seems reasonable to presume that he bleeds out and passes away off-screen given the seriousness of his gunshot wound and the fact that he lacks a phone to contact for assistance. In any case, the movie does make it quite obvious that Alan finally was powerless to avoid the repercussions of his choice from years before.

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