Title: It Comes at Night
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Bart: Come join us, Lisa, it's so cool. You get to stay up all night drinking blood.
Brief Plot Synopsis: There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Four Edgar Winter albums out of five.
Better Tagline: "I see you shiver/With antici...pation."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Some calamity — a virus, or a plague, or a Trump re-election — has forced Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), to hole up in a boarded house in the woods. As the film opens, Sarah’s father falls victim to whatever bug is floating around and has to be disposed of. This is done in the daylight, as the only hard-and-fast rule of the household is: Don’t go out after dark. This tense but stable status quo is disrupted by the arrival of Will (Christopher Abbott), a man desperate to find shelter for his own family. Paul, against his better judgment, allows them to move in, setting off a chain of events that frankly won’t end well for anyone.
"Critical" Analysis: A film's creator rarely has control over the marketing campaign his or her movie receives. Trailers often reveal too much about a film's plot, or lead potential audience members to believe it's about one thing when it's really not. For example: The previews and stills (this one is particularly misleading) for It Comes at Night, the latest feature from Krisha director Trey Edward Shults, would seem to portend the arrival of another zombie/apocalypse/zombie apocalypse horror flick. It's not.
This isn't presented as an excuse, but rather to defend a finely crafted exercise in paranoia and suspense. It Comes at Night is an engrossing and devastating movie on its own merits, but if you're expecting eviscerations, you'll be sitting disappointed in your seat long after the lights come up.
The film opens with the death of Sarah's father, Bud (David Pendleton), followed by his body's unceremonious disposal. From that point on, the tension rarely lets up. Shults maximizes the natural claustrophobia of the setting, repeatedly drawing our attention to the red, dead-bolted door that offers the only means of access to the family's house, and leverages the shadowy surroundings (faces half-lit by lanterns, the pitch-black of the woods at night) for maximum unease.
And then there's Paul. There's some uncertainty about our protagonist's reliability (shades of Take Shelter), in that there are growing suspicions about his sanity. We know *something* is going on out in the world, but absent observable data, and given Paul's intense paranoia and his willingness to shoot first (and second) without asking questions, we're never really sure.
Edgerton, it should be said, is great in this. Paul's fervor in defending his family is balanced by the dictatorial elements that are necessary qualities you look for in an End Times leadership role. As Sarah, Ejogo nobly attempts to counter this, but is understandably more concerned with the fate of Paul and Travis, who is plagued both by nightmares about Bud and lurid fantasies about new guest Kim (Riley Keough).
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A key takeaway being: Never invite teenagers to your postapocalyptic domicile if you can help it.
Is it fair to be disappointed that the horror is mostly internalized, or that almost none of the questions posed by the film's premise are answered? Possibly. And if audiences choose to be pissed off at Shults for not offering a more straightforward finished product, that's their right. On the other hand, isn't there enough room in the post-apocalyptic horror genre for a film that concentrates more on disquiet than on disembowelments?
Because It Comes at Night is undeniably nail-biting, with an ending that evokes other cinematic gut-punches like The Mist and Se7en. As an exercise in suspense, it's excellent. However, as was the case with A24's other notable slow-burn horror movie, The Witch, it won't be a surprise if audiences react negatively to the perceived bait and switch.
See It / Rent It / Skip It: See it. Then go home and binge-watch Doomsday Preppers.