From fledgling director Trey Edward Shults and burgeoning studio A24 comes the horror film that seemingly everyone has been talking about, It Comes at Night. A24 has quietly become one of the three most consistent and reliable studios out there, churning out quality films like they have an assembly line, while covering all genres and all types of film – from comedy to horror to drama. Earlier this year, they won Best Picture with Moonlight and they had many other films on the tongues of fans and critics alike all throughout 2016. They’ve come at us with such gems as The Witch, Swiss Army Man, 20th Century Women , The Monster, and others. And now they’re back with It Comes at Night.
As is typical for A24, It Comes at Night is an adult, sophisticated film that falls within whichever genres in which it finds itself. In this case, we’re talking horror-drama. The title might be misleading, however, as there is no physical supernatural force at hand in this film. Rather, It Comes at Night deals with a post-apocalyptic world that has been ravaged by a supervirus. Clearly, this isn’t the first outlet for kind of story, but It Comes at Night approaches the idea from a smaller-scale, more personal perspective. The title, itself, has a meaning that is best left to be discovered and even analyzed.
The film begins with the family of protagonist Paul (Joel Edgerton) suffering a painful loss. Immediately, the entire family is conveyed as relatable and sympathetic, forming an quick and easy connection with the audience. When an unexpected visitor comes calling, the family must decide how best to handle their arrival in the face of the omnipresent viral threat as well as their own safety and survival.
It Comes at Night is not the feel-good movie of the year. If you want that, head back out to Wonder Woman. Rather, in this film, one will get a reminder of the importance of their loved ones, as well as the fragility of life. Less obtusely, the film also serves as a commentary on the ever-present struggle between trust and paranoia in modern society. It’s a difficult topic that is making itself known on a daily basis through our news broadcasts, at our airports, and on our sidewalks. Few take a pragmatic approach to the topic, instead aiming to force it into a simple binary scenario with no shades of gray, but It Comes at Night does a fantastic job of contradicting that idea with some masterful storytelling.
No matter who the audience sees as heroes and who they see as villains in this tale, it’s difficult to argue with the actions of any of the characters. No one in the narrative wants anything bad to happen to anyone else, but each also understands that their survival and the survival of those closest to them should be most important. And that’s tough to argue with. As a result, the story is a challenging one to watch at times as impossible decisions are made by people who have no desire to make them. And it starts right at the beginning.
This sort of tale can only be properly presented if the filmmakers come armed with a capable cast, and Shults has certainly done so. The cast is small, but finessed. Their performances can shift from endearing to heartbreaking in the blink of an eye without losing even an ounce of credibility – whether it be for the story or for their respective characters. And that goes for all of them; no exceptions. Riley Keough gives such a soulful, gut-wrenching turn that she nearly made me emotional at one point in the film. Technically, it’s a horror-thriller, but there is a great weight to the proceedings and it’s difficult to remain detached from it all when the cast is so accomplished at forcing the viewer to care.
There has been some controversy around the film as some people have complained(whined) that it isn’t what they expected. I have two suggestions for those people. 1) Do some actual research. If you’re so desperate to know everything you’re going to see before you see it, then do a search. It’s easy. And it’s all out there. Or, preferably, 2) Don’t have expectations. Let the filmmakers tell you their story instead of mindlessly, absurdly demanding that they tell yours. If you do that, and you’re up for something aimed at a more refined, discerning audience, then there will be much to revel in with regards to It Comes at Night.
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