Writer-director Thomas Dekker's "Jack Goes Home" turns one family's dark, twisted past into an invisible monster, haunting the mind of a grief-stricken young man. But while the movie's artfully made and daringly disturbing, Dekker ultimately overestimates how many sick twists one motion picture needs.
Rory Culkin plays the title character: a smug, pedantic writer who's strangely unfazed when he gets the news that his father has been beheaded in a car accident. Jack returns to his hometown to look after his injured mother (Lin Shaye), who becomes increasingly irritable as he begins poking around the house.
Dekker — also a talented young actor and musician — reportedly based "Jack Goes Home" on his own experiences, which may be why it initially plays more like a personal drama than a thriller. The tone shifts when Jack finds a message from his late father, containing a clue that leads him on a soul-shattering scavenger hunt.
Unraveling those mysteries is what this film does best, as each revelation causes the hero to question everything he's believed about his life. But Jack himself talks as though he's reciting material from his old college creative writing class, making him fairly insufferable.
Dekker's combination of Eugene O'Neil and "The Shining" ultimately proves too unwieldy, especially when the secrets start raining down hard in the final half-hour. Still, kudos to him for making a movie that risks being unpleasant. If nothing else, "Jack Goes Home" effectively imagines family dysfunction as a demon that can't be exorcised.
'Jack Goes Home'
MPAA rating: R, for disturbing violent and sexual content, language throughout, and drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge at the Montalban Theatre, Hollywood