So I’m just gonna go ahead and answer the question on everyone’s mind: WHAT comes at night? The trailers make it seem like it’s zombies or something. What little I heard about the movie beforehand made it seem like it’s other people. The title alone makes it seem like it’s some 50 Shades of Grey shit. Well the answer, in my opinion (which you know is always the correct opinion), is paranoia and desperation! It Comes At Night is marketed as a horror movie, while in reality it’s a claustrophobic thriller about the horrors of what humans can and will do when survival is paramount. If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend doing so before reading any further since I’ll be spoiling everything as I usually do. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, you’ve been spoiled on two other movies already, I’m sure you’ve committed to your complete lack of self respect perpetuated by gleaning the experience of watching a high quality film through reading black words on a white page and appreciating none of the nuances of filmmaking for yourself.
Alright, now that you’re completely demoralized and are probably reading any further just to spite me, let’s get on with what makes It Comes At Night so damn interesting. ICAN name a plethora of things that make this movie so unique considering its relatively traditional premise. I’ll summarize the plot as quickly as ICAN. ICAN also identify — Ok I just realized the acronym for the movie is ICAN and ICANT stop making jokes about it, I have to stop, oh god — BIT ENDED. Joel Edgerton is a father and husband who holes up in a house in the middle of the (presumably) American woods during the outbreak of an extremely deadly and rapidly spreading disease. Do we know where exactly they are? No. Do we know the details of this disease, whether it’s worldwide, or whether it can be cured? No. All we know is what Joel Edgerton, his wife Carmen Ejogo, and his son Kelvin Harrison Jr. (and their dog) know, and we see all the events through their eyes. The movie opens on a frantic scene in which Joel’s father is succumbing to the mysterious disease, forcing Joel to take him outside and mercy kill him before burning and burying the poor guy. It’s an assault on the senses, it’s gory, it’s confusing, and it perfectly introduces us to the brutal world the film takes place in. The loss in the family is not forgotten but the family knows that it’s mourning or survival, and cleverly they choose the latter.
What I find most interesting about the first two thirds of the movie is the focus on Harrison Jr. Despite him being the least important character to the plot, the movie makes him the main character and challenges you to ask why right up until the chilling end.
Just when the family is starting to settle into a routine, a man is found trying to break into their house. Despite the criminal act, Joel and Carmen decide this guy could provide a mutually beneficial relationship by exchanging food and water for livestock. And he seems like an all around nice guy, for a desperate B and E perpetrator. The dude, Christopher Abbott, and his wife, Riley Keough, along with their young child, Stanley (on IMDb the actor only has a first name so I’m actually gonna use the character name this time) are brought back to Joel’s house, and at first it seems like things are actually going to work out. I mean, we’re only half an hour in so we know something has to happen but it’s a largely positive relationship so far. Joel and Christopher bond a bit over dude stuff, and Riley and Kelvin bond over food stuff and insomnia. Kelvin tends to have these horrible nightmares that we see as well, and this is the only part of the film I thought could have been done a bit better. I’m never a fan of dream sequences, and since ICAN takes itself so seriously and takes a realistic look at how people cope with the most dire of circumstances, I think dream sequences are a bit of a cop out and Kelvin’s character didn’t require the on the nose foreshadowing. Oh, but that dream where he’s about to bang Riley Keough and she drips a nice big glob of disease blood into his mouth is gonna stay with me for a while, dear god.
The problems start to arise once again just as a routine is being developed, when it is discovered that The Door has been opened. The Door — and yeah I’m capitalizing it since I feel like it deserves to be — is the door that separates the house from the outside with a room that we see being used to quarantine Joel’s father in the first scene. Joel’s most important rule is that The Door must always stay closed due to the very real risk of disease making its way inside. Pretty reasonable rule if you ask me, plus their beloved dog is nowhere to be seen due to an earlier issue outside involving a mysterious noise. Kelvin later finds that Stanley has been sleepwalking and wandered away from his parents’ bedroom. Thinking little of it at the time, he returns the kid to his room. That morning, it’s the beginning of the end. Kelvin reveals casually at breakfast that Stanley was sleepwalking, and Joel immediately thinks the worst, something Kelvin hadn’t even considered. He connects the events, accusing Stanley of opening the door, accidentally letting the dog out, and potentially even getting infected in the process. Chris is understandably not on board with his son getting accused, that or he’s in denial of the fact that there’s a possibility his son is awaiting an inevitable and brutal death. Joel says he thinks it would be a good idea to keep a distance between the two families, cordoning off the house into two parts.
Unfortunately for Chris and Riley, Kelvin likes to spend his time in a crawlspace that happens to be in earshot of their room. He overhears them crying and saying they have to get the hell outta there, and Kelvin is smart enough to infer what that means. Joel immediately attempts to confront them, but ends up at gunpoint and receiving demands to let Chris and his family leave with everything they need and to leave them alone. Carmen arrives with a firearm of her own, resulting in a quick standoff before Joel wrestles the gun away from Chris and forces them outside. Is anyone infected? Unclear as of now. Does it matter? Absolutely not. The intense paranoia on the part of both families amplifies the already tense situation to 11 like they live in a Spinal Tap house, and truth fails to take precedence over assumption and jumping to conclusions. It’s hard to say who’s in the wrong at this point in the story. Since we see everything from the point of view of Joel’s family, we don’t have a clear picture of which side is justified in their violence. All we know is that trust has been thrown out the window and neither party gives a shit about right or wrong, only survival.
Once outside, Chris overpowers Joel and beats him viciously while Carmen threatens him with a gun trained on his back. Chris ignores her pleads to stop beating her husband leaving her with only one option: kill Chris while his wife and child watch. Riley attempts to run, child in her arms, but Joel and Carmen know this has to end. She takes the shot, and Riley screams a scream that you understand even before she turns to show she’s cradling a lifeless child. She’s quickly put out of her misery as well, but not before ingraining that horrible “MY BABY” line. Truly chilling. Meanwhile, Kelvin is just watching in pure horror, not only at the scene playing out before him but also horrified of the fact that he knows what happened the other night: He carried Stanley back to bed. Made physical contact, an established way of spreading the disease. Even now, we don’t know whether Stanley was infected. They died not because they showed symptoms, but because of the paranoid reactions of their host family. It almost seems like the film is going to end ambiguously, leaving you thinking about how it doesn’t even matter if they were infected, because the true enemy was desperation and paranoia. Honestly, I think I would have really liked that ending. But what we got was far more chilling, and is probably going to be what I remember most fondly about the movie. I find too many movies have trouble landing on their feet, especially horror movies, ending on a far too ambiguous note or have the writing fall apart just when you think it’s going somewhere. This movie never falters, and the final shot, simply Joel and Carmen sitting across from each other at their dinner table, Kelvin’s seat heartbreakingly vacant, reminds me that films can still be thought provoking if they don’t leave the ending “up to you”. Sure, the real enemy was man all along, but that doesn’t mean the setting was simply a vehicle to tell an intimate and brutal story of the terrors of man. Kelvin’s kindness, in actuality, was what ultimately got him killed. Had he not returned him to bed, Stanley would have been discovered in the morning, the same separation of families would have occurred, except Kelvin would have never come into contact with Stanley. This is a story about environmental horror as much as it is about the confrontation under terrifying conditions, and I really appreciate the marriage between the two. It reminds me of The Last Of Us, but more intimate and fuelled by doomed relationships rather than emerging ones.
There seems to have been a resurgence of interesting horror movies as of late, and I gotta say, I’m all for it. The genre never really interested me until a couple years ago, when I was introduced to Saw and The Cabin in the Woods. I then became a huge Saw series fan (yes, I know they kinda suck, but I like them in a “so bad they’re good” way.) (Okay, maybe I actually like them. Sue me), and the rest is history. Then came the onslaught of decent to great horror/thrillers, either new or new to me: Get Out, The Invitation, Creep and Creep 2, and so on. So far, It Comes At Night is probably my favourite, but I hear great things about the upcoming Hereditary, so I’m optimistic that another film will be added to my list. I’ll be going into depth on horror movies in an upcoming entry, so this is basically just a teaser for my (possibly) next post. In the meantime, let me know what your favourite new-ish horror movie is, I’m always looking for more! And none of that Paranormal Activity, Insidious crap, please. I have standards.