It Comes at Night (2017)
Trey Edward Shults
Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Travis), Joel Edgerton (Paul), Carmen Ejogo (Sarah), Christopher Abbott (Will), Riley Keough (Kim), Griffin Robert Faulkner (Andrew), David Pendleton (Bud)
"Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son. Then a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge." - IMDb synopsis
A24 is a film production and distribution company that has, since its arrival on the scene in 2013 become the beloved favorite of art-film assholes like myself. They've become the go to for a certain type of film, primarily genre fare with a high standard of quality that people either love or hate with a burning passion. A24 was even responsible for such past Doomsday Reels featured films as The Lobster, The Rover, and Life After Beth.
A24 has become so popular amongst the brows-held-high crowd that the handful of films they put out each year have become events unto themselves and one horror film in particular was a big topic of discussion in 2017: It Comes at Night.
A lot of It Comes at Night's noteworthiness is actual owed to an A24 film from 2016, Robert Eggars' The Witch (or The VVitch if you insist on being a wang) a love-it-or-hate-it period horror film that due to its slow mood-over-substance plot and misleading ad campaign became a hot topic amongst film-goers. So it was with the baggage (both good and ill) of The Witch that people approached It Comes at Night and its own misleading ad campaign.
There are a lot of overt similarities between the two films, very little ostensibly happens in either film, they're very slow, very artsy (maybe too artsy), and pissed off a whole lot of people who just can't help but feel the movie owes them something even now. That said, The Witch actually had a witch, It Comes at Night doesn't deliver on any monster or supernatural creature. The titular It seems to be that same It that inhabits all movies of this sub-genre, man's penchant for bastardry.
It Comes at Night is the story of a family of three living in a sealed-up cabin in the woods, riding out some sort of biological outbreak that has apparently ended the world. One night, a man breaks in and the father, Paul, detains him and questions him about who he is and why he has come.
The man explains that he went out to find water for his wife and young son and that he's willing to trade food in return for the water. Paul decides to cautiously trust the other man, Will, and accompany him back to his family's property. Paul's wife, Sarah, says that if Will is telling the truth that Paul should invite the three of them to come live in Paul and Sarah's house.
The two families live in peace for a time until one night when Paul's teenage son Travis find's will's young son Andrew sleeping on the floor in a different room and puts him back to bed to find that their exterior door is left wide open and unlocked. Seeds of distrust are sown between the two families and fear that the other family is sick lead Paul and Sarah toward bloody confrontation.
It Comes at Night does something that I never though possible. It makes the nihilism and bleakness of films like The Road and The Rover (this film's brother in both tone and style) and make them seem hopeful and romantic in comparison. This is an ugly movie and it will rip your guts out without a second thought.
There's a lot of debate about various aspects of this movie. Are the two men who ambush Paul in the woods connected to Will? Who left the door open? Is Andrew sick? Do Travis' spooky dreams have any basis in reality. What was the dog chasing, who killed it and brought it back? These are interesting questions but ultimately the lack of answers is the point. The lack of certainty and the disorienting feeling it gives the viewer is meant to put one in the head-space of the characters. It's easy to Monday morning quarterback their deeds but can anyone really be sure they wouldn't end up in just such a terrible turn of events themselves if they were put in this situation?
It's unclear if Will and his family are who they say they are or something more dangerous, unclear what if anything is out there in the woods at night. Maybe the disease makes you sleepwalk, maybe Travis had it the entire time and gave it to Will and his family. We don't ever got solid answers to these questions and the doubt coupled with the things that actually do happen in the movie eat at you.
As I said, this movie is a good companion piece to David Michôd's The Rover, but also David Koepp's The Trigger Effect. But where those movies saw a certain glimmer of hope in the human spirit and their desire to help one-another, It Comes at Night seems to see that desire as a road to more viciousness and brutality via doubt.
It Comes at Night was a very polarizing movie and while there are those (dumb people) who will say that this is not a horror film or is a movie where nothing happens, I think the real reason that people don't latch onto it is because it's an unpleasant movie in a way that's not really enjoyable or entertaining at all. I've certainly seen more violent or disturbing movies but none sit quite so uncomfortably in my gut as this one.
I've seen it called slow but the plot breezes by at a brisk hour and a half with credits. If anything I would've liked the movie to take a little time and build some more rapport with these characters and skip out on all the dream sequences, which I think muddle the plot and confuse from the core idea of the movie. This movie doesn't need a mystery box or an unseen thing on the doorstep, its tension and fear come from something much more elemental than a fear of some unseen force and I think these more mysterious aspects only hurt the movie overall.
It Comes at Night is good but rushed and genuinely unpleasant in spite of itself. I'm almost certain my opinion of this movie will shift over time but where I stand now I find it to be worth a single watch and then maybe never again. There are other outbreak movies that convey this message with a bit more flair.
Next Time on Doomsday Reels
"I want spaghetti because the other man gave me spaghetti. "