Jack Goes Home

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Courtesy of SXSW
An unsatisfying pairing of horror with familial mourning.

Rory Culkin plays a man facing tough questions after his father dies.

A muddled psychological horror film about a young man coping with the death of his father, Jack Goes Home is a puzzle few viewers will care to piece together. A leading turn by Rory Culkin may attract some attention to this sophomore feature directing effort by TV actor Thomas Dekker, but the picture’s sluggish start and shaggy-dog conclusion will not inspire good word-of-mouth.

Culkin plays the title character, a single child who returns home after his parents have a car accident. Jack’s matter-of-fact phone call to his pregnant girlfriend, in which he dispassionately recounts the grisly details of his father’s death, are the first sign that something isn’t right about this family, and for its opening hour the film promises to be an odd but sincere probing of family dysfunction.

But the heavy horror-flick atmosphere of Ceiri Torjussen’s score eventually makes sense when, past the halfway point, what have up to now seemed jarring missteps in tone give way to full-on horror action. As Jack’s mother, Lin Shaye embraces some Joan Crawford-sized maternal hysterics; the family dog endures shocking abuse; and Jack discovers audio and video tapes in which his father promises painful revelations from beyond the grave. Seeming to drop in occasionally from another movie, Jack’s best friend Shanda (Daveigh Chase) tries to console her grieving pal with pot and trips to a dance club.

Is Jack going crazy? Is his mother unthinkably evil, or simply suffering a trauma-induced psychological break? None of the likely explanations will justify the shock cues and seemingly supernatural elements (doors shutting themselves, light bulbs with minds of their own) that Dekker has borrowed from the ghost-movie playbook — and none really make sense of the film’s increasingly bizarre action.

Distributor: Momentum Pictures
Production companies: Yale Productions, SSS Entertainment
Cast: Rory Culkin, Lin Shaye, Britt Robertson, Natasha Lyonne, Nikki Reed, Davleigh Chase
Director-screenwriter: Thomas Dekker
Producers: Thomas Dekker, Scott Levenson, Jordan Yale Levine, Jason Rose
Executive producers: Brandon Baker, Jessica Chang, Sharon Contillo
Director of photography: Austin F. Schmidt
Production designer: Danica Vallone
Costume designer: Sally del Castillo
Editor: James Casteel
Composer: Ceiri Torjussen

Rated R, 104 minutes

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