It Comes at Night (2017)
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
Premise: At a time when a deadly and highly contagious disease is rampant, a couple and their teenage son live in a secluded house in the woods. The relative order of their life is upset when they take in another family and mutual suspicion gnaws at their ability to live together.
What Works: It Comes at Night flings the viewer into the life of a family scratching for survival in what is presumably a post-apocalyptic future. The scope of this story is quite narrow; almost all of the action is confined to the house and the grounds immediately outside of it. These limitations work in the movie’s favor. By withholding explanations about what has happened and just letting the circumstances speak for themselves, the filmmakers create an impression of being cut off from the rest of the world, very much like the circumstances of these characters. The limited scope of It Comes at Night also allows the filmmakers to manipulate our point of view. The story unfolds from the point of view of the family’s teenage son and because he is restricted to the house, its interior space becomes his entire reality. The movie includes several dream sequences and although that is a familiar trick, the dream sequences work in this film because they visualize his fears and allow for the character’s reality and fantasy to bleed together. It Comes at Night is partially a germ movie. Humanity is besieged by a deadly contagion and the characters take steps to keep themselves free of infection such as wearing gloves and masks. The wooded setting works well for this scenario and the film is shot in such a way that the look of the picture takes on a visceral visual texture that creates an impression of sickness and disease. The cinematography of It Comes at Night is very effective. The filmmakers use shadow and darkness in a way that is dramatic without looking overly produced and they create a vivid atmosphere of dread. It Comes at Night also has some terrific performances. Joel Edgerton is the father and he takes the lead in guiding his family though this catastrophe; Edgerton does a very good job of being the alpha male while also including moments of compassion. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is also quite good as the son. In addition to everything else going wrong with the world, this teenager is stuck spending his adolescence in the woods with his parents and his loneliness, frustration, and fear are palatable in Harrison’s performance. It Comes at Night also gets some startling performances out of Riley Keough and Christopher Abbott as another married couple who seek shelter. The entire cast of It Comes at Night brings a lot of reality to the picture. It is a subtle movie about what is going on underneath and between the characters and how their paranoia and distrust shape their interactions.
What Doesn’t: End of the world scenarios are in vogue at the moment, especially in independent cinema. It Comes at Night exists amid a lot of similar apocalyptic titles like 28 Days Later, The Road, How I Live Now, and Into the Forest. It Comes at Night reiterates the same core themes and scenarios as these other movies and nothing in it is all that different from similar pictures. The filmmakers do this genre well but It Comes at Night doesn’t add much to it. The movie offers another bleak vision of how human beings would behave in a crisis; the film’s revelations don’t add much to our understanding of ourselves, at least not for viewers who a familiar with this kind of story. The picture ends too abruptly. The conclusion of a story ought to allow the viewer enough time to process what they’ve seen and come down from the intensity of the climax. There are films in which a brief finale is appropriate but the ending of It Comes at Night needs a bit more breathing room.
Bottom Line: It Comes at Night is a difficult and in some ways unpleasant film but it’s also gripping and very well made. The movie remains within the conventions of post-apocalyptic indie films but it’s one of the better examples of that kind of picture.
Episode: #602 (July 10, 2016)