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On a dark night along an isolated road, a deer suddenly passes in front of a pair of headlights causing the car to crash through the guardrail and into the abyss beyond. Meanwhile, a young man named Jack (Rory Culkin) sits at his desk at his office typing poetry on company time. He’s an unlikable character, smug and indifferent to a coworker, but we learn he’s about to become a father. His phone rings and he’s told that a car accident has beheaded his own father and injured his mother.
He takes the news with surprising ease, shrugging off the gruesome details with a cold smile, saying he’s fine, we live, we ride in cars, we die. That night though, he sleepwalks and mumbles about something in the attic, and it’s the first hints that something isn’t right. A dread seeps into the story. Jack goes home to look after his mother (Lin Shaye), who though only slightly physically wounded is mentally shattered. The more Jack pokes around the old haunts of the house though, the more unstable she becomes.
Written and directed by Thomas Dekker, Jack Goes Home is a twisted character study about a troubled man who lives in shadows, fully aware of his pretentious attitude and acerbic personality, existing with a dangerously dark side that sees him envisioning his own horrific end. Understanding why he is as he is remains the central problem for him, and coming home only intensifies his angst. What the movie does in trying to give closure to this issue derails what starts as a very compelling story. The inconsistencies in the plot and character development unhinge what are some very strong performances and a few well-directed scares.
Those performances start with Culkin, an actor who has become a bit of an indie chameleon, finding challenging roles that keep him on the fringe. Here, in bedraggled, stringy hair and sunken eyes, he is decidedly creepy, a macabre figure that is clearly teetering on a very thin line. Culkin doesn’t overplay it, and while the script strips him of real depth, he does well in a difficult part. Playing his best friend Sandra is Daveigh Chase, a young woman with a mysterious presence who does well in the perfuctory role, but it used too sparingly. The talented Natasha Lyonne shows up for a few lines and disappears, but it is Shaye as Jack’s mother who comes off the strongest. She is a twisted, maniacal woman who does one better than her career-defining turn in the Insidious franchise, even if it is a bit obvious.
The secret of the film, which I won’t betray, lies in a cassette tape Jack discovers in the attic. It’s not a far leap in guessing what it’s all about, but the journey there and the third act reveal are a letdown as the the film jarringly zigzags across a number of genres. It’s at its best when it plays as a complex family drama, with the relationship between Jack and his mother often gripping, but stumbles when it tries to wax philosophical, or make leaps into black comedy and eroticism, all the while keeping layered in a ghost story.
Dekker has the right idea in terms of building some scares, but none of it is all that imaginative. Tonally, he’s all over the place, seemingly tossing anything at the screen in hopes something will connect, and while sometimes that works, mostly it just feels forced. There is nothing we haven’t seen before, even if the right buttons are pushed. The soundtrack, the jump scares, and the big reveal all have a sterile obligatory feel to them, manufactured for effect rather than growing organically. Worth a look for some solid performances, it is otherwise a disappointment.
Director: Thomas Dekker
Writer: Thomas Dekker
Stars: Rory Culkin, Britt Robertson, Lin Shaye, Daveigh Chase, Nikki Reed
Genre: Horror, Drama