You can’t go home again, as Thomas Wolfe told us, and Jack (Rory Culkin) would’ve been wise to heed that advice. In Thomas Dekker’s Jack Goes Home, Culkin’s oddball Jack is floating through his life comfortably. His fiancée Cleo (Britt Robertson) is pregnant with their first child, and he works a comfy job at a magazine. Then Jack gets a phone call that changes everything: his parents were in a car accident. The accident claimed the life of his father, but his mother Teresa (Lin Shaye) walked away with only a few minor bumps and scrapes.
So it’s back to the old homestead Jack goes, where he ambles around the big, spooky house he grew up in while his mother exhibits some odd behavior. Cleo is somewhere in the UK visiting relatives, so Jack spends his time with his childhood best friend Shanda (Daveigh Chase) and Duncan (Louis Hunter), a next door neighbor who clearly has eyes for Jack. But the more time Jack spends at home, the weirder things get. Visions, scary noises in the attic, and the always-creepy grainy VHS tape containing dark secrets all present themselves, and Jack begins to grow more and more unhinged.
Dekker’s film is ambitious — perhaps too ambitious. Jack Goes Home is packed with ideas and characters, but the end result is a cluttered, confusing saga that’s hard to make head or tails of. Perhaps that’s intentional, to better reflect Jack growing more and more unglued the deeper he gets. But after a while it takes a toll on the viewer, sapping energy from the film in the process. Culkin’s performance is strong — the actor has a way at playing quietly disturbed. But Jack is something of a blank character from the start; we don’t spend enough time with him before he heads home to get a sense of just who he really is.
The real standout in the cast is Shaye, in perhaps her largest role outside of the Insidious franchise in some time. Shaye is clearly having a blast playing such a warped character, and milks moments where she’s cutting up raw, bloody meat for all their worth. At an hour and forty-four minutes, Jack Goes Home is overlong. Much of the bloated runtime could’ve been trimmed by scraping an extraneous character. Shaye and Culkin have a nice adversarial relationship, and one wishes Dekker had ditched the other characters — like the horny neighbor and the concerned childhood friend — and devoted more time to Jack and his mom.
Jack Goes Home crescendos in a sequence you’ll likely see coming, and that doesn’t do it any favors. But it’s clear that Dekker is swinging for the fences here, and if he misses more than he hits, his effort is commendable. As a directorial debut, Jack Goes Home is adequate but frustrating, but it’s not a bad warm-up. Mr. Dekker has bigger and better things in him, he just needs to find a more satisfying way to conjure them up.