Something I have found in my years watching and loving cinema is that the modern horror genre is particularly guilty of producing fantastic trailers that are followed by underwhelming films. However, when it came to the trailer for It Comes At Night, there was something about the pace and premise of the story that felt promising. I’m a firm believer that the dark depths of a movie theatre make for the best horror film watching experience, so in I went, pre-scared friend in tow, to see if the trailer was the good indicator that I thought it was.
Here’s the thing. It Comes At Night is a good movie, but contrary to what the trailer would have you believe, it’s not really a horror movie. Set in a near future where society has been ruined by a mysterious contagious disease, the film tells the story of Paul (Joel Edgerton), a father camped out with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) who are faced with an ethical dilemma when a man (Christopher Abbott), seeking help for his own family (Riley Keough and Griffin Robert Faulkner), breaks in to their boarded up home. With the threat of disease an overshadowing menace, the two families come together in a tense new dynamic that, in true apocalyptic fashion, does not go entirely to plan.
Firstly, the title of the film is either incredibly misjudged or intentionally deceiving, as I’m sure many cinema goers will turn up expecting to find something more coming at night than metaphorical fear. Going back to the trailer, what is sold as a pretty traditional ‘fight against outside evil’ narrative, is very quickly revealed to be something much more cerebral and small scale, focusing on the nature of humanity and paranoia. For somebody like me who doesn’t mind more of a psychological thriller edge, this wasn’t an unwelcome surprise, but those hoping for more traditional horror won’t find it here.
However, that’s not to say that there aren’t scary elements, because there certainly are. The film indulges in jump scares as well as anxiety building scenes helped by an effective score, although the overuse of dream sequences, a personal pet peeve of mine, clearly intended to unsettle the audience, serves more to disrupt the flow of the picture than add to it. Ultimately, if you have the patience for a different kind of horror, a much more psychological, insular, metaphorical experience, then I’m sure It Comes At Night will give you an enjoyable time, but those expecting something more along the lines of 28 Days Later will not find what they are looking for here.
In terms of performances, everyone involved does a great job of maintaining the high level of intensity that exists throughout the narrative. As central patriarch Paul, Joel Edgerton exudes that kind of brooding masculinity with a vulnerable undertone that is so prevalent in post-apocolyptic settings. He’s a man trying to protect his family through selfishness, but cannot seem to shake the grain of humanity that he has left to help others, and Edgerton has that kind of complexity down to a tee. Carmen Ejogo is perhaps underused as wife Sarah, the female perspective being something that is slightly lacking within the narrative. As teenage son Travis, Kelvin Harrison Jr. gives a solid performance as a very troubled, lonely boy, struggling with becoming a man in a setting the does not allow him to experience anything of old normal human life. In a way, the film is as much a coming of age story for Travis as it is a traditional contagion horror, and though Harrison Jr. is forced contend with all of the picture’s irritating dream sequences, he does well with the material that he is given.
As parents of the ‘intruding’ other family, Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough do an impressive job of holding their characters’ cards close to their chests, walking that fine line between trust and suspicion to keep the audience guessing and speculating until the final third arrives. Keough in particular continues to impress in whatever she happens to be doing, and her character in involved in a key scene in the film’s conclusion that even the blanket of hearts would describe as devastating.
Overall, It Comes At Night is a film that is perhaps more enjoyable to talk about and debate than to actually watch. Frustrations at the time turn in to interesting points of discussion and theories afterwards, but is that the best way to treat an audience during runtime? I’m aware that I’ve been more harsh on the film than the majority of critics, but hey, I gots to be me, right?