Studio: Momentum Pictures
Director: Thomas Dekker
Writer: Thomas Dekker
Producer: Jordan Yale Levine, Scott Levenson, Thomas Dekker, Jason Rose
Stars: Rory Culkin, Lin Shaye, Daveigh Chase, Louis Hunter, Nikki Reed, Britt Robertson
A devastating tragedy forces a young man to confront haunting family secrets buried deep in his mind.
"Jack Goes Home" comes to VOD and select U.S. theaters on Friday, October 14th from Momentum Pictures.
By his own admission, Jack Thurlow is a “pretentious little f*ck.” He’s not wrong. Jack brims with the smug ennui of a causeless rebel, thinking himself so culturally superior that he can’t resist condescendingly correcting another contemptuous millennial on his comprehension of the word “pontificate.”
Jack works at a magazine, so he knows something of linguistic nuance. You can still hear eyes rolling, both yours and those of the person he is talking to, when Jack lightly lectures on the difference between “man” and “bro” as a preferable pronoun.
Acerbic is a charitable way of describing Jack, making his oppressively depressive personality an obstacle in getting onboard “Jack Goes Home.” He simultaneous embraces and alienates everyone around him. It would be laboriously draining having someone like Jack in your everyday life. Asking an audience to empathize with someone so irritating even for 100 minutes can be the same sort of chore.
You don’t really warm to Jack over the course of the movie so much as Rory Culkin forces you to pay attention anyway through sheer force of his quietly simmering to a boil performance. Never mind family ties or supporting roles as a child and young adult. “Jack Goes Home” is Rory Culkin in full stride as an assertive, experienced lead. Culkin carries the film to fruition by having Jack swallow him whole in order to emerge as a convincingly complex character who is compelling in spite of coming across as caustic.
Jack’s shoulder chip slumps down when he receives word of a grotesque car accident that beheaded his father. His mother Teresa survived. After catatonically relaying the tragic news to his pregnant fiancée over Facetime, Jack leaves Los Angeles to comfort grieving Teresa back at his childhood home.
Unspoken old wounds reopen when mother and son reunite. Cordially copasetic on the outside, torn by past problems on the inside, their relationship takes another tumultuous turn once Jack discovers an audio cassette recorded when he was an infant. The man may be dead, but the voice of Jack’s father is about to guide Jack through a mystery that has haunted their family for decades. As he unwraps new clues, Jack unravels buried memories. The psychological storm swelling in Jack’s mind now has him questioning what is even real and who he really is.
Accomplished young actor turned burgeoning writer/director Thomas Dekker used his script to write himself out of depression following his own father’s death. His personal demons play out by way of confrontational themes involving childhood trauma, sexual orientation, parental bonds, and personal identity.
This is not a “ghost goes boo” fright flick. “Jack Goes Home” is an introspective character deconstruction with an arthouse indie skin first, and a psycho-thriller with slight swaths of commercial horror second. Anticipation for more of the latter instead of the former comes with complaints about conventions like hallucinatory demons grabbing from darkness, locked boxes in attics, and sinister secrets threatening to tear apart an already fractured family. Really, these tropes are empty vessels intended for occupation by illustrations of Jack’s continually crumbling emotional mindscape.
“Jack Goes Home” remains confident about what it means to do on an emotional level, even when the movie is doing too much of it. Conversationally smart dialogue melts organically into a melancholic mood, though scenes themselves become overlong and overindulgent.
Being an actor himself, Dekker falls headfirst into the fledgling filmmaker trap of seeing every second of each performance as essential. They aren’t. Minutes are misused slowing the story’s speed for what essentially amounts to unnecessary cameos featuring Nikki Reed and Natasha Lyonne in particular.
In retrospect, a late scene of a concerned neighbor offering condolences at an inopportune time seems to be some sort of vague substantiation of an upcoming reveal. In the moment, it’s a deflated stab at tension distracting from the main arc of Jack’s deteriorating slide into possible insanity.
One scene, and only this one scene, doesn’t include Jack (Daveigh Chase discussing Jack with Nikki Reed). Dekker, perhaps unknowingly, betrays his character study by breaking away from Jack’s point of view for this instant, undermining the illusion of bewilderment regarding how much of what Jack is seeing is real and how much may be imagined.
It’s the movie’s own fault for losing viewers through dour characters wandering astray into unimportance. Despite this dragging first hour however, the setup takes a sudden turn into a third act that is infectiously arresting. The steady build of presumed pomp and mumblecore pretension comes down swiftly when “Jack Goes Home” bores straight into our own individual discomfort zones, revealing the movie as an effective exercise in cerebral disturbance, not straightforward shock.
See past the Shyamalan curveball, which drops in the dirt anyway, to contemplate subtext and “Jack Goes Home” is a thoughtful thriller settling inside you perhaps without realizing it. “Scary” or even “entertaining” don’t fit its description. The film is more nontraditionally haunting than that. When the movie sleepwalks, it takes attention spans with it. Yet in those moments when it finds an inroad to frayed nerves, “Jack Goes Home” has a way of alarmingly challenging perceptions that is hard to shake from your head.
Review Score: 70