Remember when Joel Edgerton starred in that shitty 2011 The Thing? And he looked just like a young Kurt Russell, but the movie was complete dogshit? Well, how rad is it that he’s being vindicated in the genre world over the last few years? In 2015, we get The Gift, which he wrote/directed/starred in, which was intense as hell. In 2017, we get It Comes at Night, which is one of the tensest and exhausting movie experiences you’ll have this year, watching a family come undone at the seams for the sake of self-preservation.
You might have disappointed Kurt Russell before, but you did right by him this time, buddy.
We don’t know much about the nature of the virus that has taken over most of the world’s population, but it’s led Paul (Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) to board themselves up at their cabin. When an intruder breaks into their house with a story about trying to find supplies for his own family, Paul takes all the necessary precautions to protect his family, while also allowing the stranger to explain his side of the story. Paul eventually accepts the intruder, Will (Christopher Abbott), and the two families come together. Sadly, this proves to be the beginning of the end, as the two families begin to find holes in one another’s stories, making them question each other’s stories and question if all the paranoia is just in their own heads.
I’m sure this movie made many people think, “Damn, I never wanna go to the woods,” but I couldn’t stop thinking, “Damn, I wanna go to the woods!”
The film opens up with Paul and his family having to kill Sarah’s father without giving the audience any idea of what’s going on, with the intense sequence alerting you that you’ll often be as confused and disorientated as the characters themselves. It reminded me of the first time I watched Dawn of the Dead, when I had no idea it was a sequel, and it opened with society already collapsing. Much like that film, It Comes at Night doesn’t give a shit that it makes its audience uncomfortable or hold your hand through all the events that led to civilization getting to this point, helping create a fear of the complete unknown.
Thanks, It Comes at Night, for giving me reasons to never trust anyone again for any reason!
Also much like Dawn of the Dead, It Comes at Night doesn’t care about the monster that’s knocking at the door, it’s concerned with how the people on the inside respond to that knocking at the door. One scene, in particular, between two characters features a simple misunderstanding in language, with a question being raised about semantics, that immediately sets the viewer on edge to begin wondering if it was an honest mistake or a slip-up that reveals a villainous nature. Not only does this scene represent the entire film, it represents a huge facet of the human condition. Throughout the entire film, Paul never makes a decision without knowing the thousands of consequences he faces, making his family’s safety his top priority. Many of us go through our lives with this very outlook, although the stakes aren’t certain death, but we put our physical and emotional safety above all else. This makes paranoid and detached from others, unless we make the choice to believe others and put our faith in those that we don’t know completely, which makes us vulnerable. Paul’s decision to allow Will’s family into his home could be incredibly rewarding, showing him and his family that life is more fulfilling once you bring in others, or Paul’s vulnerability could be the absolute reason for his demise. In other words, life fucking sucks, and we are constantly calculating when to open ourselves up to others or when to shut ourselves off to ensure our own safety.
Hey! You creep! What are you doing with all those plants?!
Allegories for how humans interact with one another aside, It Comes at Night is effective as both a deliberately-paced horror movie with a sense of dread throughout, as well as a horror movie you can take at face value that’s full of solid jump scares. Every zombie/infection/apocalypse film features scenes where a new character arrives and our heroes don’t know whether to trust them, and this film takes those scenes and stretches it into an entire film. The performances are all fantastic, reminding me of the episodes of Lost in which Ben was held prisoner for days as the heroes tried to determine if he was one of The Others. Whether you prefer atmospheric horror with a lot to say about society or you just think zombie outbreaks are cool, writer/director Trey Edward Shults has given us one of the most effective horror movies of the year, full of compelling and layered performances, which is sure to make you fearful of everyone sitting with you in the theater and second guess who you let into your life.
Wolfman Moon Scale