Movie Review: “It Comes at Night” (R)
For those of you going into “It Comes at Night” hoping to get the wits scared out of you at a breakneck pace, you may want to stay home. This isn’t that kind of a movie. This is a quiet, methodically paced, horror-tinged drama in which the apocalyptic backdrop at the heart of the movie is secondary to the characters trying to survive it. It all plays a bit like a very understated, honed-in episode of “The Walking Dead.”
“It Comes at Night” imagines a world consumed by a deadly virus, only we never really learn what that virus is or how it came to be. Instead, writer/director Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”) opts to center his film around a family of three as they try to make a home for themselves in a cold world where sickness has obliterated a large portion of the human race. Patriarch Paul (Joel Edgerton) runs a tight ship, confining his loving wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and his teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) to a home in the middle of the woods. They only leave their isolated abode to forge for supplies, and very seldom do they ever venture out at night. Why? You needn’t look past the sinister title of this film to find your answer.
Themes from John Carpenter’s “The Thing” of mistrust and paranoia are ultimately pushed to the forefront of the movie when intruder Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into Paul’s home forging for supplies of his own in an effort to provide for his own wife and child. Following said intrusion, a very suspicious Paul must consider every conceivable angle behind Will’s motivation. Suffice it to say, this is a pretty dark movie. It’s a fairly cynical one, too.
As a survival story, a tale of how far a father will go to protect the ones he loves, and a cold look at a world ravaged by sickness, there are times when “It Comes at Night” might remind one of John Hillcoat’s bleak cinematic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” although this film is considerably smaller in scale.
Dependable Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”) continues his string of captivating performances by presenting Paul as a man whose protective nature is only rivaled by his struggle to hold on to his humanity. Likewise, Christopher Abbott (“A Most Violent Year”) is strong as the mysterious stranger who forces Paul to make some incredibly tough decisions. Despite having less to do in this movie, Carmen Ejogo (“Alien: Covenant”) and Riley Keough (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) acquit themselves nicely as a pair of loving wives who, like their husbands and children, simply want to make a sensible life for themselves in a world gone to hell.
It’s Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“The Birth of a Nation”) who makes the biggest impression in “It Comes at Night” as Paul’s 17-year-old son. Travis is a typical teenager. He has a dog, he likes to draw, and he has many of the same desires as other young men his age. But sadly, Travis is also plagued by nightmares brought on by a terrifyingly unpredictable world. Of the entire cast, Harrison is asked to display the widest range of emotions, and he’s completely up to the challenge.
There are times when “It Comes at Night” falters a bit. There are slight lapses of logic, and there’s an odd, seemingly incomplete transition following a sequence in which Paul and Will have a deadly encounter in the woods. It’s as if an entire scene was cut from the film, and you can feel it. There’s also a bizarre conversation about baked goods between Travis and Will’s flirty wife. Furthermore, some film aficionados will find the altering of aspect ratios throughout the film off-putting. Still, “It Comes at Night” is beautifully acted, and Shults, who has worked with the likes of Terrence Malick, shoots the hell out of the proceedings with the aid of his gifted cinematographer, Drew Daniels. “It Comes at Night” has patience, and Shults’ decision to allow certain scenes to linger as Brian McOmber’s ominous score plays in the background, add to the film’s overall effectiveness. A lot of this stuff really gets under your skin.
“It Comes at Night” certainly isn’t a re-invention of the apocalyptic horror film, but it earns points for putting character first and finding ways to unsettle the viewer through tone rather than cheap shock tactics. Yes, it ends on an anticlimactic note, and yes, it’s cold and cynical. But again, the cast is strong, and the whole thing is stunning to look at. If you’re in the mood for a methodically paced, undeniably bleak genre piece along the lines of something like “The Witch,” then “It Comes at Night” is definitely worth your time.
Movie Review: “It Comes at Night” is understated horror set in an apocalyptic world