Home Before Dark review: New Apple TV murder mystery is sleek but too straightforward
Home Before Dark review: Apple TV’s new series, a murder mystery starring Brooklynn Prince and Jim Sturgess, really needed to make a better case for itself to stay outdoors.
Home Before Dark
Creators - Dana Fox, Dara Resnik
Cast - Brooklynn Prince, Jim Sturgess, Abby Miller
Now that enough time has passed, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: Apple TV+ still hasn’t delivered a show that can absolutely compel viewers to purchase a subscription to the service. Like The Morning Show and For All Mankind before it, Apple’s latest offering, Home Before Dark, is a slick piece of entertainment that simply doesn’t harvest the reputation for innovation that the company is otherwise known for.
For starters, it’s aimed broadly at children, an undemanding section of the audience that would neither care about the high production values or the glossy sheen that executive producer and director John M Chu slathers the show with. What kids (and adults) really want is a good yarn, especially if it’s a murder mystery that they’re tuning into.
Watch the Home Before Dark trailer here
Based on the investigations of pre-teen journalist Hilde Lysiak, Home Before Dark is sort of like the Encyclopedia Brown and Three Investigators novels that we used to read as kids – stories about precocious children defying adults to bust drug rings and recover stolen treasures.
In Home Before Dark, Hilde, played by The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince, stumbles upon a dormant mystery in the sleepy little town her family moves into. Her father, played by a slightly miscast Jim Sturgess – he’s too young – used to be a crack reporter in New York City, before being forced to uproot his family to his home town. Young Hilde idolises him, much to the disapproval of her mother.
Hilde’s father, it is revealed, is notorious among the townsfolk for being involved in an incident that took place many years ago, when he was around Hilde’s age. It’s something that still haunts him. His return brings out the skeletons in the town’s closet, and stokes the suspicion of a community that seemingly hasn’t moved on.
Home Before Dark largely coasts along on the strength of Prince’s central performance. It only reasserts what The Florida Project promised, that the young actor is one to keep an eye out for. As Hilde, she’s resourceful and plucky without ever coming across as grating. When she interrupts a local felicitation ceremony of a crooked cop and begins asking him some tough questions, the scene doesn’t come across as unbelievable, which, if you think about it, is quite admirable.
Often, when the plot becomes too straightforward to admire – breakthroughs are made as if by clockwork, and potential villains telegraph their true identities – it is Prince’s performance that saves the day. Certain scenes, especially the ones in which Hilde comes to a stunning realisation, are done in a dependably strong, if familiar manner. They evoke a very specific era in American filmmaking, the mid-2000s, when pop music was invariably sent in to do the job, and slow-motion was left to take care of unfinished business.
It’s a shame that, at least in the first three episodes – that’s how many the series will premiere with on April 3 – the show doesn’t display many traits worthy of an unequivocal recommendation. There are dozens of superior alternatives to be found, and especially in this competitive climate, Home Before Dark really needed to make a better case for itself to stay outdoors.