Movie Review : It Comes at Night (2017)
* spoilers (kind of) *
Few movies have polarized audiences like It Comes at Night did, so far in 2017. That's interesting to me, because at first sight it seemed like one of these smart, minimalist independent movies bound to become a cult hit. So, what did it do to elicit such strong reactions from critics and audiences? Well, it's a question I wasn't quite able to answer after going to a screening of It Comes at Night this weekend. It's a rather smart film that doesn't really deliver what its trailer promises. Is that a good or a bad thing? It'll be for you do decide, but here are my thoughts on it.
It Comes at Night is the story of Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.),a family waiting out the end of the world in the woods. A deadly virus is wiping out the population and driving human beings back to a simpler, more brutal existence. Life changes for Paul's family the day they find an armed intruder (Christopher Abbott) in their home, looking for supplies. The man is claiming to be a desperate father, looking for water for his wife and son. Instead of killing the stranger or letting him go, Paul and Sarah decide to take the stranger's family in. Being nice to someone you don't know was a noble thing before the fall of society, but things are more complicated now that everyone's desperate to survive.
There are no flesh-eating zombies in It Comes at Night. People who get infected by the virus change into listless, rotten bile spewing monster before croaking without any outside help. The only way they can kill you is by infecting you with their infectious spores, which doesn't make them so different than conventional zombies, I suppose. Their only purpose is to make you like them. Sure, they're technically still alive and in great pain but it doesn't change much for the survivors. They're extremely dangerous and need to be dealt with. These "monsters" are key to understanding what It Comes at Night is trying to tell you because it's not overtly making its point.
It Comes at Night is an allegory for mankind's fear/obsession with death. The movie's thesis is that we're doomed to live in constant fear of our own inevitable demise. The woods symbolizes the greater unknown which Paul's family live in terrified awe of. Safety and survival is insured inside the house, where the family members can look out for one another. The process of going outside is portrayed by a long corridor ended by a red door * and, if you pay attention enough, you'll notice often has a light at the end. Whether it's a gunshot blast or simply Travis' lantern, there's a light at the end of the tunnel you cross to go outside. See where this movie is going? Nothing is guaranteed in the post-apocalyptic world of It Comes at Night except that if you leave the house enough, you'll eventually die.
I get why It Comes at Night rubbed some people the wrong way, though. It's semi-honest about what it's trying to be. Every anxiety-inducing monster scene you're sold in the trailer actually happens within a dream sequence, which is kind of bullshit. It makes sense within the movie's logic because the "It" of It Comes at Night is really fear, and it's just what seeps into Travis' nightmares. My problem with the movie is that it uses these scenes as a crutch to alleviate its lack of tension and the pattern becomes clear about halfway through the movie. The two families are living a stern and mundane life together until the growing fear of the unknown and the deadly disease pries them apart **. It Comes at Night's minimalism gets in the way sometimes and the movie relies on gimmicky scare tactics to keep your attention.
Did I like It Comes at Night? Eh. I didn't hate it. It's a smart and disciplined movie that stuck to its story and managed to swerve around lots of its genre's clichés. I thought it was a little uneventful and manipulative on the side, but that it made its point in a subtle and nuanced way. Perhaps not in a tremendously entertaining way, I don't like to use this word but I can say I was bored during certain scenes of It Comes at Night, but it managed to say something coherent and smart. It was distributed by A24, which also distributed The VVitch last year, a movie with a lot of thematic similarities. Not sure it would've found a taker without the success of the latter. I had no strong feelings towards It Comes at Night. It was decent. But I can understand why people praised its aesthetic ambition and others lamented its manipulativeness. It's really a movie you need to make your own opinion on.
* Red commonly symbolizes danger.
** That's not really a spoiler, though. It's in the trailer.