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It Comes At Night
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Heart-pounding suspense and razor-sharp tension highlight this highly acclaimed thriller. Secure within a desolate home with his protective and heavily armed parents (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo), 17-year-old Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) watches his world abruptly change with the arrival of a desperate couple (Christ Abbott and Riley Keough) and their young child. Panic and mistrust grow as the dangers of the outside world creep ever closer...but they may be nothing compared to the dangers within.
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This movie is a post-apocalyptic slow burn about the lengths people go to to keep their loved ones safe. Once I realized I wasn't getting adrenaline-type thrills the trailer promised, I re-started the movie and absorbed it more as an experience than a wild ride. Every scene overflowed with dread and claustrophobia. The acting is strong, especially the teenage boy, who is the eyes and ears of the film. His nightmares are what "comes at night", and I found him to be a heart-breaking character. His parents do the best that they can to protect him, but they are out of their depth, as seen in what transpires when a new family arrives. The characters don't always do the right thing, but their decision-making is explained well in the script. There are thankfully few quick edits - you see the beginning, middle and outcome of every action. When the inevitable occurs, there is a sense of realism that I don't often see in movies today. The final scene may seem abrupt, but it is breathtaking in its silence and finality. This is not a feel-good movie. I wasn't expecting it to be, but I was still surprised how deeply it affected me.
Okay, within the first 20 minutes it's clearly established that this is not some demonic possession movie, wooded boogeyman or ghost story - but a post apocalyptic horror movie. The RED DOOR, so prominently featured in the promotion of the film, simply turns out to be the entry point of a self quarantined house - with no mystery behind it what so ever. 30 minutes in, you begin to understand (because the movie is so homebound) that it is not a post-apocalyptic horror movie, more of a post-apocalyptic THRILLER. 40 minutes in you realize, that no, it's not even really a thriller, but a kind of convoluted domestic drama, punctuated by violence.
This would ultimately be fine, if the movie wasn't so turgid and almost boring. Ironically, it's the film's realism that does it in - the characters are rightly portrayed as being under stress, duress and in a mode of paranoid isolation. Because of this they all ultimately become unlikable. The unassuming and PIVOTAL character of the son is where it all falls apart. I think here, is where the movies biggest flaw lies. Perhaps myself and many of the negative reviewers might have MISSED something. After watching this character (played in a nearly narcoleptic manner by the actor who plays him) repetitively going up to the attic over and over to secretly listen to people's conversations, who can blame the audience for barely being able to relate to or even understand this formless character's motivations. The director gives no clear direction into what this character is thinking or really doing. Was I to understand that it was the son who mangled His dog. Was I to understand that it was HE who opened the red door purposely exposing everybody in a sabotaging act of defiance against his family? I'm not sure - because I just spent an hour watching him have movie filler nightmares and creep around with a lantern every 20 minutes! Other aspects that cloud this character (and I'm not sure if I missed these things, or if it's on purpose of the director), is that the film seems to possibly indicate that the son is mentally ill (maybe something like schizophrenia) and has no access to medication and that there is animosity between him and Joel Edgerton because Joel Edgerton is actually a Stepfather and not his real father (But again, did I miss it?)
I guess I generally understand the movie to be about what a family will do to survive at all costs and what are the consequences of that. It seemed to want to stake out a moral claim that all is lost without trust. But if that is the point of the movie, didn't the ending completely undermine that? It seems like the ending points to the idea that Joel Edgerton's controlling family first ethos was correct. Everything that Joel Edgerton and the mother do to protect their tiny family unit backfires in the end - but again, did I miss something pivotal with the son? I won't ever know, because the movie was frustrating and grueling in a staid, unexciting way and I won't watch this movie a second time to review some it's finer details.
Once in a while I'll see a movie that for whatever reason, I thought was off-putting. Maybe I thought it was slow. Maybe I thought it was disjointed. Maybe it confused me a little. Perhaps I thought it was too open ended. But often, I will find myself THINKING about some of the scenes or aspects of it that slowly seeped into the back of my mind, indicating to me that the movie was much better than my initial reaction, because I was still thinking about it weeks later. NOT "It Comes at Night." This movie evaporated from my mind the minute I walked out of the theater feeling that I just WASTED 2 hours of my life. It was so disappointing.
It Comes at Night has polarizing reactions from crowds that witnessed myself and heard from other people. At the end of the film, someone behind me shouted "Boooooooring" and others agreed. It has a deceptive title, advertising that don't match the tone, and a slow, quiet, deliberate pacing. It's definitely not for everyone and I can understand the hate. I loved it. The outside world is not seen, but it's clear based that this is an apocalypse situation where the family is rigid in their rules to protect each other and what's theirs. At the start, Bud, Sarah's father, has somehow contracted the illness, devastating the family. Paul and Travis handle him with care in gas masks, gloves, and other protective clothing. They take him outside, shoot him, burn his body, and finally bury him. Travis is the most affected by the harrowing incident and dreams of his grandfather as a monster and himself becoming infected. Very little is shown of the disease beyond large sores, but they wisely never let it get farther for their own protection. Paul has found a way for them to survive and it has worked when the world around them crumbled. They never go out after dark unless it's an emergency. Each person keeps busy and contributes to shared resources. Life goes on even after tragedy.
When Will shows up, it's the middle of the night and he breaks into their house for food and water. Paul takes every precaution and ties him up outside for a day to make sure he's not infected. When he proves to be compliant and uninfected, Will leads Paul to his house with one mishap. A group of men attack them in the road, forcing Paul to kill them all to keep what's his and his life. This shows how the world is now. Paul isn't wrong to treat Will so badly, constantly training a gun on him and making sure he isn't planning to strike when the moment is right. They return with Paul's family without further incident and they live together in harmony, working together, for a while after that until one fateful night. It's hard to blame either side for what happens. Both are looking to protect their families and no matter how nicely they act together, trust can never truly be given anymore. Either side suspects the other of wanting to take all they have or wanting to do harm no matter how well intentioned. Travis sits in the middle of all of this as the most innocent, the most willing to trust and keep his humanity. He sits on the cusp of adulthood with all the hope in the world. The tragic ending for both sides shows that his hope has no place anymore.
It Comes at Night has very little music and builds tension throughout the film until the heartbreaking resolution. Neither side comes away unscathed and the most innocent people suffer the most. The film is not action packed or fast paced, but the emotions and the dimensions of all the characters make it one of the most realistic apocalypse movies I've seen. Some accuse it of being more of a drama as it focuses on the characters and their relationships over the disease or its horror elements. I think this take makes it even more horrific because these people seem real due to the writing and the excellent performances on all sides plus the lack of clear answers. I can understand each person's motivation which makes the ending all the more tragic. The ending scene shows the same as earlier in the film, that life goes on even after loss.