Christopher Abbott, Cinema, Film, Film Review, Horror, It Comes at Night, Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Krisha, Movie, Movie Review, Psychological Horror, Riley Keough, The Gift, Trey Edward Shults
“It Comes at Night” is a psychological horror film directed by Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”) and starring Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”), one of my favourite actors working today. It’s a movie which displays technical prowess, a strong handle on its tone, believable performances and assured direction, but it also fails to entertain for long periods of time.
The first thing to address regarding this film is that its marketing campaign was grossly misleading. Anyone who has seen both the trailers and the finished product knows that what was advertised was completely misrepresentative of the content of the movie. In this film nothing comes at night. There’s no big bad chasing our protagonists, instead the antagonist of the film is a virus which has left the world desolate and without order.
“It Comes at Night” is one of the worst movie titles that I’ve seen in a long time, and although this doesn’t bare any real significance when it comes to the overall quality of the movie it does go some way to explaining why there’s been such a disconnect between the critical reception of the film and the opinion of casual moviegoers. My expectations were tempered going in because I’d read about the movie’s deceptive marketing, but for members of the audience who had seen the trailers and were looking for a simple horror experience I can see how this movie could’ve been frustrating.
Personally I think that “It Comes at Night” is a very solid movie; the individual elements that most critics look for when assessing a film are there and the cinematography, acting, and direction are all great. However, this is not a film that I would recommend nor is it a film that needs to be seen at the cinema.
“It Comes at Night” is a dark movie both in terms of tone and visuals – the lighting is great and it helps to build the sense that the world that the characters are populating is post-apocalyptic, given that there’s very little in the way of artificial light. This might seem like a small thing but oftentimes horror movies fail to understand that using excessive lighting in places where there wouldn’t be any such lighting breaks the suspension of disbelief, thus taking the audience out of the experience and destroying immersion. It’s crucial that a horror film reels its audience in before it tries to frighten them, so there’s something to be said for this movie’s focus on realism and the fact that it respects its audience’s intelligence.
It’s also a film with a powerful lead performance, as Joel Edgerton is once again intense but understated in a role which requires a degree of restraint. He portrays Paul, a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders who is doing all he can to keep his family safe. He’s distrustful of outside influences and he’s willing to do just about anything to keep his family from harm, but it’s also clear that a part of him wants to stop fighting and to try to live a normal life. He’s an interesting character and Edgerton gives a predictably layered performance, carrying the film despite the fact that he isn’t always the focal point.
Nevertheless, these positive aspects don’t lead me to the conclusion that “It Comes at Night” is an amazing movie. I definitely respect the work that went into making it and I think that it’s an assured piece of filmmaking, but there’s nothing special about the plot to tie the individual components together. In my opinion much more could’ve been done to create drama in the narrative once the second family entered the fray, because although attempts were made to develop the characters and their relationships there wasn’t enough conflict given the situation.
I liked the beginning of the film because a tense atmosphere was created and Paul was immediately portrayed to be a morally grey character, but once the first act was over and new characters were thrown into the mix I felt that the movie stagnated when it should’ve excelled. It was clear that whilst the families were getting along they didn’t completely trust each other, and a couple of interesting dynamics were created between Paul and Will (Christopher Abbott) and Kim (Riley Keough) and Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). However, these relationships weren’t genuine enough to make me care about the characters and they weren’t volatile enough to make the final act truly suspenseful. I feel that we needed to see the characters start to come into their own and trust each other in order to make the conflict seem earned and worthwhile, but the attempts that Shults made to portray this on screen were limited at best.
This is partly because “It Comes at Night” is a very methodical film, with the main priority being to make the situation seem as realistic and grounded as possible. This is an admirable approach when done well, but when a film is as deliberate as this one it needs to either have a surprising ending or to build towards something inevitable that you really don’t want to see happen. Shults tries to have his cake and eat it on this front, constantly pushing the idea that the two families can’t possibly co-exist whilst also trying to shock you in the final act, but neither the characters nor the story are complex enough to make you believe that anything other than the obvious is going to happen.
Still, the shortcomings of this film’s plot didn’t completely ruin the experience for me. There are issues with “It Comes at Night” that are hard to ignore, but if you appreciate great cinematography and skillful direction then there’s much to be enjoyed. There’s a lot to like about this movie from a technical perspective and there were sequences that I thought were excellent in their execution, but ultimately it’s an unbalanced and slightly laborious cinematic experience which is unlikely to appeal to the majority of mainstream audiences.