Monsters, carnage, mayhem. All of these are promised within the title of the film and it’s respective trailer. However, if there’s one thing that’s important to know about It Comes At Night, it’s that it is not the horror thriller that was sold to audiences. Indeed the movie seemed to have been marketed in a way that was inconsistent to what it actually is, which was something more than I could have bargained for.
The movie’s premise is simple enough, a pandemic of unknown origin is sweeping the (presumably) U.S. leaving society in shambles. The film revolves around a family comprised of a father Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their 17 year-old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and their attempts to survive whilst boarded up in a house in the woods. The illness, which is not explicitly explained, infects fast and kills quickly.
I leave you with that much of an explanation because in the fashion of the movie, the illness is only a vague threat, with the main “scares” coming from within. You see, It Comes at Night employs a strategy of using a vague external looming threat to redirect the viewer’s attention on what is transpiring within the family unit. Like the characters in the movie, the scope of the film rarely ventures beyond the threshold of the house.
Understandably, this could be frustrating for some viewers who were expecting the characters to be pitted against some evil that knocks at their door. However the film is not lacking in its nail biting moments and re-defines the cliché that the scariest monsters are oftentimes humans themselves. Additionally, the film incorporates a series of dream sequences which provide a reasonable level of suggestion that what is happening on-screen in the portions considered “reality” may actually be occurring in a different fashion than what the viewer is being shown.
This usage of suggestibility heightens the overall feel of anxiety that the film seeks to impose on the audience, casting the viewers into a feeling of solidarity with the pseudo narrator of the film (Harrison Jr.). A wonderful soundtrack accompanies all major scenes, most of which was created by an in-studio orchestra in lieu of computer synthesized sounds. Camera work, which also was demonstrated at a masterful level, also contributed wonderfully to the movie.
Very rarely did the actions in a scene happen center stage; due to clever camera angles, oftentimes the most tense or action filled scene’s main events occurred just on the peripherals of the audiences vision. This was consistent with the film’s attitude of never explicitly explaining anything to the audience.
Performances by all the actors felt organic and believable, making all of the abominable acts of violence they perform that much more gut-wrenching and realistic. The movie as a whole, starts with little explanation, tosses the audience into tense situations, chews them up and ends, answering very little questions along the way.
I found myself leaving the theater with both a feeling of immense appreciation for the work of art that I had just witnessed but was also filled with a deep sense of self-loathing after being made witness to the terrible, heinous acts humans are capable of when trapped like animals. If you can stand to sit through the entire performance, expect to call this film the best film you’d never want to see again.