Film Review – It Comes at Night
It Comes at Night
A24 is an independent film company that has certainly made a name for itself since opening in 2012. A24 is synonymous with indie films that are widely regarded as special, brilliant, interesting, and the most important, usually well-reviewed. It Comes at Night is its latest film release and has the marketing campaign behind it that has made horror fans weak in the knees.
Directed and written by Trey Edward Shults, a SXSW Film Festival winner for Krisha, It Comes at Night is his first widely released feature film. The film tells the story of a family led by Paul (Joel Edgerton) with wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). They have secluded themselves in a large, cabin-like house in the woods in the aftermath of some sort of apocalyptic event. Event may not be the correct word, but something started in the cities, people started getting “sick,” and killing them. This disease, pathogen, or something like that may be transmissible through the air, physical contact, or through blood transmission. Because of this gas masks and gloves are worn while near new people or those already sick. The family is falling apart at the beginning of the film because grandpa Bud (David Pendleton) has gotten sick and is put out of his misery by Paul. “Normal” life continues for the family until someone breaks into the room that leads to the locked, only entrance to the home. It’s Will (Christopher Abbott), a man in search of food and water for his family. The untrusting Paul takes a chance on Will and retrieves his own wife, Kim (Riley Keough) and son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). With the entrance of this new family into the home, a routine settles in, but trust still wavers.
The biggest problem with this film is its classification as a horror film, and A24 pandering to its fans. This is not a horror film, but a psychological thriller. There is a minimum amount of gore and what happens to people when the pathogen takes effect, but that’s about it as far as descriptors for the horror genre. The rest of the story plays in your mind as you are trying to figure out who can be trusted (as the characters are doing the same thing) and what the heck is “It” in the title. The film is filled with tension, both in the interactions between the two families and what is out there coming for them. What is all boils down to is a sextet (or quintet if you negate the small child) figuring out how to survive while relying on other people and looking for companionship in a lonely, changed world.
The setting and cast are small, a concentrated group of suspects in a remote location. While Edgerton’s Paul may take the alpha part of the group and certainly is the one with the plan, the audience is seeing the story from the eyes of his son, Travis. Kelvin Harrison Jr. takes his lanky, teenage body (although really 22 years old) and his superbly, emotive face to task with depicting what it does to a person nearing adulthood when you are shut in a house with your parents, having recently lost your grandpa, and your only true companion is your dog. There is no one else. His premonitions or dreams that are seen throughout the film are foreshadow the conclusion. However, in examining some of these sequences, some may have been memories. Director Shults holds tight on Travis and his experience, and it is through him that we can spy on the other characters in their private moments.
Presenting It Comes at Night as psychological thriller, Shults excels at this genre. However, if you are going to categorize it as a horror film, it does not even meet the basic qualifications, and this is coming from a reviewer who is not overly fond of the genre. There is no absolutely no payoff in this film, and that is the most aggravating and annoying thing about it. The audience never learns what “it” is and is left up to our imagination, which is why it is hard to describe. It is all a guess. The ambiguousness of the cause of all this misery may work for some viewers, but it did not for me. I brought a serious horror fan with me to see it and her first comment after it ended was, “You have got to be kidding me,” and that pretty much sums up the letdown of It Comes at Night.