It Comes at Night

June 11, 2017 at 9:16 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

The woman in front of me declared this the worst movie she had ever seen. While I am not entirely sure what her canon of favorites would contain, I can understand her sentiment. Though I strongly disagree with her, I can see where someone would be disappointed if they were looking for something traditional here. With a name like, “It Comes at Night,” and a trailer like the one below, this looks like a very standard horror film. You might reasonably expect Stephen King-esque terrifying creatures and gore-a-plenty. But, if that is what you want, this is not what you want. Instead, this film is a genuinely taut creepfest, with lots of tension, mystery and an unnerving level of ambiguity. This is the first major film from director/writer Trey Edward Shults. He has a clear understanding of horror/thriller motifs and uses them to great effect. From the first scene, tension is ratcheted up slowly and unrelentingly over the 90 minute run time. Everything in this world is bleak, washed out and largely colorless, except the dark red door that represents the only way in and out of the house where most of the action happens. The story takes place some time close to now in some deliberately vague part of the United States. Some sort of illness is effecting people and that’s all we know. From there, isolation, anxiety and paranoia ensue. And that is what this film is really about. Calling it horror is a deliberate bait-and-switch on the level of calling “Fargo” a true story; the deception serves a deeper artistic purpose. Our anxiety and uncertainty about where the film is going is purposeful; Shults is trying to mimic in the audience the same experience that his characters are having. Right to the shocking and ambiguous ending, we are meant to be unsure what the hell is going on because the characters are unsure. I want to say more about this, so I am putting a spoiler alert here. If you have not seen the movie and don’t want the end ruined, do not read on. SPOILER: In that final scene, we are deliberately supposed to wonder what does the shock and grief on Paul’s (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah’s (Carmen Ejogo) faces mean. Is it because they wrongly killed an entire family without cause (and the last scene of their son was one more of his dreams) or was it because they were too late, their son is dead, and they should have killed the family earlier? In the end, we don’t know which was the correct path for them to take. We don’t know what the wrong choices were. And that is by deliberate design. We should leave that theater feeling unsettled because the world Shults has created is one steeped in uncertainty. What is it that comes at night? It is not, as we are mislead to believe, some monster. It is us. Perhaps, it is other dangerous human beings who come to threaten our family. Or, perhaps, it is our own paranoia that sneaks into our brains at night and makes us into our own monsters. That is also unclear. This ambiguity is what I love about the film. Shults is not just trying to make entertainment; he is trying to make us feel his movie. I think that takes a deft hand from a screenwriter and director. He took me places I did not expect to go and, for that, I am appreciative.

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