The New Zealand thriller that recently landed on Netflix is a study in pain, revenge, and letting go. The film based on the short story by Owen Marshall is a haunting look at how your past can not ever be outrun. Trauma and abuse can be an inescapable cycle of violence. It is a slow, inevitable march to death for the seemingly idyllic family. Brutal and savage, Coming Home In The Dark is a hard watch. Here’s everything you need to know about the bleak but strangely hopeful ending.
What happens at the end of Coming Home In The Dark?
The film opens with a happy family enjoying the gorgeous countryside. It ends in a much different way. The family gives every appearance of having it all. The brothers tease each other good-naturedly, and Alan and Jill, seem to be very much in love. Before the sun sets, their world has been shattered by two men who have an agenda. The two men who call themselves Mandrake and Tubs are searching for vengeance. They don’t care who gets in the way or whether the revenge is justified.
Slowly throughout the movie, Mandrake reveals that this family was targeted for a specific reason. After killing the two boys, they kidnap the couple and take them on a cross-country trip of terror, eventually killing several other people. Jill jumps off of a cliff into the ocean and is presumed dead. The remaining three men square off back at the school Alan once trained at. Alan gets shot in the stomach, but Tubs shoots Mandrake and wanders away, saying “I hate this place”.
What does Mandrake mean?
Mandrake is most likely not the man’s real name. It is an unusual name that Alan would certainly remember, especially in conjunction with the torture he witnessed. He chose it probably because it represented something dangerous and creepy. Mandrake is a member of the Nightshade family and has a large root that resembles a human body. Because of the eerie shape, the plant was thought to have supernatural powers that were both positive and negative depending on how they were used. Similarly, Mandrake could have used his experiences to help others or let them taint him. He chose to let the darkness consume him and turn him into a monster.
Why did Mandrake stalk and torment Alan and his family?
Early on, there are signs that this was not random. Mandrake calls Alan “Hoagie,” which turns out to be an old nickname of the man. He also questioned Alan about what he did for a living. He then asks very pointed questions about where he worked and a specific school where Alan trained. The school had a nasty reputation for turning out criminals. The school closed after an abuse scandal forced its closure. Once Jill discovers that Mandrake blames Alan for what happened at the school, she berates him and says Alan wasn’t involved. Alan acts shiftier and denies seeing anything, which is the first hint that he was more involved than first thought.
Mandrake questions Alan about the abuse in front of his wife. He is relentless until Alan finally admits that he was present during one of the abuse sessions. He witnesses a young boy who had given himself a swastika tattoo, being punished. The headmaster scrubbed at the tattoo while the boy was held down. Mandrake was that boy and tells Alan it is important to get the details right. It was a nylon brush, and the event shaped Mandrake into the man he is now.
The assumption is, Mandrake and Tubs had tracked down all the other men involved in the abuse at the school, and he was the last one left. Alan was not directly involved, but he admits he stood by and watched it happen. He also knows about sexual abuse, physical abuse, and psychological torture designed to discipline the children. Jill later tells Tubs there is a difference between doing something wrong and letting it happen, but she understands they come from a similar dark place.
Mandrake tracked Alan for years and asked Alan what he expected to happen to boys like them? Alan finally admits that part of him let Mandrake get hurt because he thought he deserved it. Humans are cable of terrible violence. Whether for a righteous cause or to protect ourselves, that vicious streak lives in all of us. Alan was likely disgusted by the young boy’s racist tattoo, and instead of trying to understand him or help him, he only wanted to punish him. Coupled with the power imbalance created by the student/teacher dynamic, Alan succumbed to mob mentality. It is a similar concept to that of the Stanford Prison Experiment explored.
Why does Tubs shoot Mandrake at the end of Coming Home In The Dark?
One of the biggest mysteries is why Tubs shot Mandrake instead of Alan. Throughout the film, the two kidnappers are in conflict. Mandrake speaks to and about Tubs as if he is damaged, and Mandrake is both his protector and controller. Tubs seems reluctant to be involved in the violence, and when he places Alan and Jill’s sons in the lake after Mandrake shoots them, he is almost reverent. His treatment of the bodies is respectful. At the end of the movie, Tubs shoots Mandrake because it is the only way to stop the violence.
Mandrake asks Alan if he has read Frankenstein. Alan chastises him for relating to the monster. He tells Mandrake monsters are not made and refuses to accept any blame for how the boys turned out. Alan laughs at him, saying “he missed the point”. This is the most critical comment in the film. Both men have missed the point though. Some monsters are born, but others are made by circumstance. Sympathy and hate are not mutually exclusive. In Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster is born innocent, but because of his treatment and appearance, he becomes the monster everyone sees him as. He is both sympathetic and horrific.
Mandrake is the same way. What happened to him as a child was awful and was not his fault. What he chose to do as an adult is though. He killed innocent victims without remorse just as easily as he tormented Alan. He was never going to find peace. Destroying Alan’s life was not going to be enough to satisfy him. Some things can never be fixed, and he is one of them. Whether Mandrake was destined to become a terrible person before being abused at the school is debatable, but Tubs makes the conscious choice to forge a different path.
Alan tells Tubs that regardless of his freedom, he is still on a leash. That leash is Mandrake. Until Tubs cuts the cord, he can never have freedom either. He shoots and kills Mandrake to find freedom and peace and to take action when Alan did not all those years ago. By choosing to help Mandrake he was a guilty as Alan was.
The meaning of Coming Home In The Dark comes from the title itself. Home should be a safe place. Coming home in the dark should represent traversing the dangers of the outside world to the relative safety of home. For some that safety could be decimated by secrets. Sometimes those secrets create ripples of trauma that affect everyone and everything around them forever. The darkness holds monsters, but sometimes home does as well. Coming Home In The Dark is streaming on Netflix now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.