It Comes at Night (2017)

Written and directed by Some Indie Filmmaker You’ve Never Heard of, But Your Film Buff Friends Say He’s The Next Big Thing (Trey Edward Shultz)

Starring: That Dude Who Was in Loving? Wait, He Was in Star Wars?! (Joel Edgerton), Kelvin Harrison Jr, and Karmen Ejogo

 

Without electricity, you have to listen to the people down the hall having sex.

It Comes at Night is not a date movie. It’s not a scary movie for a sleepover. It’s not a film you watch every Halloween.

I’ve been racking my brain for the appropriate times for watching It Comes at Night. Insomniac Netflix binge? A follow up film to a Middle School class’s first reading of The Lord of the Flies

Spoilers ahead:

It Comes at Night is not a monster movie. It was advertised as such and I could feel the boredom and disappointment stewing around me in the theatre when that was not what was delivered. It’s a quiet, taught thriller rather than a fun gore fest. is about the last days of two families as they go from an uneasy alliance to an unfortunate and bitter end.

The story centres around Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), the seventeen year-old son of Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Karmen Ejogo). The film opens with the family saying goodbye to its oldest member, Sarah’s father, Bud (David Pendleton). Bud has caught whatever plague has infected humanity to the point of apocalypse and is being taken out back a la Old Yeller.

This is Travis’s first exposure to death, especially the death of a loved one. He transfers his grief into a protective attitude towards his grandfather’s dog, Stanley. As the film progresses, Travis gets increasingly upsetting dreams reflecting his anxiety of getting sick. He stops sleeping, but doesn’t stop caring. His parents are properly paranoid in the post-apocalyptic landscape. When a stranger tries to break into their boarded up house, they decide the best course of action is to tie him to a tree and leave him there until they can be sure he isn’t infected. It’s as disturbing as it sounds.

The stranger is a man with a family just looking for supplies. He appeals to the humanity of patriarch, Paul (Joel Edgerton) and the two form an uneasy alliance. The two families can share resources like water, food, and human company. It’s good good enough for a time. It shows tribe dynamics rolling back the time to how it must have been when humans lived in much smaller societies. However, there always remains an undercurrent of mistrust. Both families are lying to each other and catching the others in lies. How much would you trust a man who tried to break into your house? How much would you trust a man who tied you to a tree? It’s a bleak and ruthless view of humanity.

Tension turns to tragedy and the viewer leaves the film with a silent moment shared between two people who have sacrificed everything and still lost. There is no happy ending.

It Comes at Night isn’t about a monster that breaks into houses and kills people off one by one. It’s not the kind of horror that gives you a quick rush of adrenaline then lets you sleep it off. It Comes at Night is the film that will get you when you’re lying awake in bed wondering if you’ll die in your sleep. It’s a quiet film, so quiet you could hear my stomach gurgling in the theatre, about death and grief and humanity. It doesn’t pull any punches, so if the death of a dog or a small child upsets you then I would not recommend it.

It is not a film that is going to appeal to all audiences. Some people will find it boring and depressing. Others won’t like the lingering disquiet it leaves you with after the lights come up. That makes it a hard film to give a ranking to. It’s something I would recommend to my film buff friends, partly because of how tight and well-made the film is, but I don’t know if I’d ever want to rewatch it.

I find myself describing this film as a lot of things it is not, because of the misleading marketing giving viewers false expectations. It Comes at Night is a family drama. It’s an exercise in grief and regret. It’s a coming of age story about mortality. It would probably do well as a stage play.

The acting is very strong, all of the performances are believable. The production is tight and cohesive. Everything from the lighting, to the costumes, to the makeup reflect the world we’re supposed to be seeing. One detail that really floored me was the dirty ears all of the characters had. Of course people would have dirty ears without access to easy, hot, running water. The actors were shot to look natural, not idealized and often wore the same clothes for days. There was nothing extraneous or out of place.

As a technical film, it’s amazing. As a story, it’s slow burn sadness. As a whole, it’s not for everyone.

 

Tentatively, 7/10.

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