It Comes at Night 2017
Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, the tenuous order a man (Joel Edgerton) has established with his wife and son is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate family seeking refuge. Despite the best intentions of both families, paranoia and mistrust boil over as the horrors outside creep ever-closer, awakening something hidden and monstrous within the man as he learns that the protection of his family comes at the cost of his soul.
June 9, 2017
Trey Edward Shults
Trey Edward Shults
Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, and Kelvin Harrison Jr.
The post-apocalyptic subgenre of horror has become well-trod territory; be it caused by dead returning to life, a virulent virus, nuclear war, religious rapture, MUTO epidemic, or extraterrestrial invasion, horror fans have a hard-on for watching society crumble. Of course, there’s something romantic about the idea of surviving the apocalypse; not romantic like kissy-kissy, but adventurous. The apocalypse gives people the opportunity to redefine themselves, to become known for their best strengths and features. It instantly removes the pressures of alarm clocks, work weeks, taxes, and rat races.
Another relatively upbeat characteristic of the post-apocalypse are the bonds formed between survivors as they strive to recover a semblance of normality. Even a harrowing show like The Walking Dead sees communities struggling to create new utopias among the wreckage of society; The Hilltop, Alexandria, The Kingdom, and The Seaside are all examples; even the mean old Saviors and Heapsters are tightly connected by bonds that border on familial. We’ve also seen this type of new family in films like 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead (original & remake), and the horror comedy Zombieland.
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A reoccurring trope of many post-apocalyptic thrillers sees once-strangers (even adversaries), like the units mentioned above, putting their differences aside to battle a common enemy. We love seeing a crisis bring out the best in humanity as we work as one thwarting Walkers or sickies or aliens or whatever the extinction-level threat may be.
The point of this abnormally long introduction to the post-apocalyptic/virus horror It Comes at Night, written & directed by Trey Edward Shults & now playing nationwide, is to remind us all that not every installment in this particular horror subset adheres to previously established parameters. Films like Carriers, The Divide, and The Road, for example, paint a direr picture of the apocalypse, one where the line separating man from animal becomes obliterated, leading to inhuman interactions, shocking abuses, and even cannibalism. It Comes at Night isn’t the story of tribes coming together in order to create a stronger community; rather, it’s a parable about isolation, paranoia, and self-preservation. It’s a nihilistic morality tale, one that almost seems to suggest any attempts at cooperation post societal collapse are futile—and this isn’t even the thematic low point; It Comes at Night is extremely dark, harrowing, and hopeless.
Official Synopsis: Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, the tenuous order a man (Joel Edgerton) has established with his wife and son is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate family seeking refuge. Despite the best intentions of both families, paranoia and mistrust boil over as the horrors outside creep ever-closer, awakening something hidden and monstrous within the man as he learns that the protection of his family comes at the cost of his soul.
It Comes at Night stars Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, and Kelvin Harrison Jr.; the film was produced by A24, the studio behind The Witch, Green Room, and Swiss Army Man (among many other outstanding films).
About A24: The studio behind EX MACHINA, AMY, ROOM, THE WITCH, THE LOBSTER & more. Coming Soon: Free Fire, A Ghost Story, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, It Comes at Night, Woodshock, Slice, and Good Time.
Dramatically and emotionally, the film is anchored by the father/son relationship between Paul and Travis (played by Edgerton and Harrison Jr. respectively). In addition to presenting the powerful motif of parents protecting children at any cost, these characters are foils, two sides of the same coin; in a sense they represent a duality within us all, one that will dictate who we will become when backed into a corner. One will lose his soul, the other will lose his faith in humanity. Travis is the character most moviegoers will likely identify with; as a 17-year-old, the normal pains of adolescence have been exasperated to extremes by the timing of this particular apocalypse. Travis is the moral compass of his family unit, but the chaos of the situation causes his needle to spin, unable to locate true north. Ultimately, however, there seems to be no karmic reward or consequence for either character, once again highlighting the film’s unflinching brutality and Melvilian pessimism.
It Comes at Night will challenge many horror fans, not because it’s at all opaque in terms of linear storytelling and/or presentation, but because we see the world exclusively from the point of view of Paul’s family; they don’t have any idea about the extent of the biological threat ravaging the country (planet?) and so neither do we. Post-apocalyptic horror movies can be divided into two major categories: The outbreak/origin of the extinction event (like World War Z and Night of the Living Dead) and those that introduce a society rebuilt in the aftermath (like The Girl with All the Gifts and Re-Kill). It Comes at Night falls somewhere in between. The shit has definitely gone down, but how (or even if) humanity will pull itself from the wreckage remains uncertain. Again, it feels like a pivotal moment, not just for Paul and Travis, but for mankind: Will common bonds unite us, or will overwhelming fear be the final, inevitable nail in humanities coffin?
Don’t expect answers on a silver platter; don’t expect to ever know for sure who’s a liar, or where and when the second shoe dropped. Just as there are shadows in the forest that are never identified, there are questions in It Comes at Night that will forever remain amorphous, no matter how long they linger in our collective subconscious. These information vacuums aren’t the result of shoddy scripting, rather they’re intentional tactics employed by a skilled fear practitioner who knows exactly what he’s doing. No matter how hard we try to put It Comes at Night into a context we can fully comprehend, we’ll always remain off-kilter, one foot firmly planted in the unknown—and therefore terrified.
Slasher fans (or those looking for buckets of boobs and blood) won’t like It Comes at Night; fans of supernatural horror will love the tension and suspense but may be disappointed by the lack of manifestations, as the titular “It” is never seen, identified, or even fully-comprehended. If you enjoyed films like The Witch, The Guest, Into the Wood, and The Gift, films that leave you emotionally devastated and mentally exhausted, then you will likely enjoy It Comes at Night. Those with a taste for the bleakest examples of apocalyptic survival horror tropes will absolutely love it. It Comes at Night may go down in cinematic history as the Threads of the 21st Century.
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Bottom Line: Challenging subtext, intentionally confusion and a lack of slasher-movie mayhem may dissuade many horror fans from giving It Comes at Night a whirl. Those who take the plunge will be heartbroken and stunned—but they won’t soon forget this brutal and intelligent creeper that explores the darkest aspects of the human nature, potentially obliterating your hope for any future beyond extinction.