Revenge, grief and piercing secrets make Jack Goes Home quite the interesting genre hybrid, but Thomas Dekker’s disparaging darkness might rely a bit too heavily on haunted aesthetics. The story itself is one of loss and homecoming, hinged on a character’s wading through pools of emotional unrest. People cope in infinite ways, and Dekker’s appropriation of Jack is meant to show man’s ability to teeter at wit’s end – a brutal inner tumble that continually drags us down to deeper depths. Some unsettling imagery couples with a dreamlike waltz through personal strife, yet come the film’s twisted finale, Dekker loses grasp of the self-discovery at stake. Brittle reveals crumble at the cusp of understanding, meant to rattle instead of satisfy – the whole style over substance cliché rearing its head once again.
Rory Culkin plays the titular Jack Thurlowe, a husband (webcam wife played by Britt Robertson) and hopeful father returning home for the worst reason. Both Jack’s parents were involved in a devastating car accident, leaving his father dead and mother Teresa (Lin Shaye) widowed. Home embraces the prodigal son, if only to help console and care for Teresa during what should be a time of need – but Jack is the one who seems to be unraveling. Teresa approaches each day with a certain calmness, while Jack turns to best friend Shanda (Daveigh Chase) for support before stumbling down a rabbit hole he may never leap out of. Jack soon finds himself haunted by nightly sleepwalking fits and clues that lead to buried pasts, all of which suggest his life is nothing as believed.
Jack Goes Home deserves credit for balancing so many plates, until they all come crashing down in a chorus of sinful smashes. Dekker is one bleak sonofabitch by way of his scripted discussions about life and death, but his want to please every type of genre fan leads to incomplete ideas and bouncing questions.
Nothing is off the table for Jack. He’s haunted by outreaching arms and bloody creatures, beaten by his mother, kissed by his male neighbor, ruined by bad news from his wife – but how does it all add up? Relationship experimentation and drug abuse distract, yet the real issue here is Jack’s discovery of gruesome family secrets. The horrors of night are washed away by each day’s sunshine, while the demons swirling around Jack’s head are never restrained enough to follow.
Culkin’s talents are widely abused by Dekker’s constantly-shifting struggle, arguably towards the lead actor’s benefit. His eyes alone convey the dead glassiness of overburdened hypnosis, brought upon by reality’s tightening grip. Robertson is a non-factor for most the film, whereas Lin Shaye turns in another fun genre role as Jack’s tormenting mother – but Culkin draws attention in every scene. Never does his loose grasp on sanity slip into foolishness, while any running from the dark Jack does is playfully stacked against Culkin’s almost blase attitude towards boogymen and crippling anxiety. Culkin does what’s asked, which might be the problem here.
The skeletal backbone of Jack Goes Home is weak and strained, that of a trippy mindf*#$ with only short bursts of genre aggression. We’re let into Jack’s mind, never able to differentiate between what’s happening on Earth or filling the ether. He’s suffocated by an avalanche of hurdles, but every mystery operates on its own tangential mindset. Jack’s interactions with Duncan (Louis Hunter) do have meaning, yet they never interlock with the flurry of dopey highs and perverse lows Dekker explores. Experimentation and tasty little bites of ferocious suburban horror provide gasps of fresh air amidst a film that stumbles over its own story, meaning that Dekker’s vision is certainly thrilling – just haplessly plotted about.
Those more interested in momentary scares over composition might find Jack Goes Home to be quite the pysche-bursting treat. Rory Culkin entices as Thomas Dekker’s corrupted hero, even if reality distortion never leads anywhere dynamic. Some will dig this kinetic bout of blistering genre toxicity, while others will be let down by an ending that offers no pretty bows or sense of direction. Jack Goes Home is a swirling storm of emotional ravaging that’s eventually personified by action, but it never comes together as wicked, cohesive storytelling. Give this one a watch, but just know the risks going in.
Jack Goes Home is a breakdown you can't quite grasp, despite some genre merits that certainly embrace the dark.