No, not THAT It
Hark, did the angels sing and ring the bell that is Indie Art House Corner *cue children’s cheer track;* it’s where the budgets are low, the concepts are high, and nothing makes sense. Today we take a look at another film from that there A24, a film production and distribution company behind several of last year’s interesting indie hits, including Moonlight and The Witch. Strangely they’ve been marketing their latest production, It Comes at Night, as a spooky jump scare-a-thon, but this is a different kind of horror. The one that fills you with dread inside and tense all over, you know, the kind I like. So does this film meet my high standard? Only one way to find out…
An unknown plague seems to be sweeping the land, so Paul (Joel Edgerton) boards up his home, employs some militant survivalist techniques, and secure his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and son, Travis (Kevlin Harris, Jr.), from any infection from this mysterious plague that causes skin lacerations and vomiting blood while having pitch-black eyes. After another survivor named Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into the home and is captured by Paul, the three survivors decide to take in Will’s family upon hearing of their plight. So Will’s wife, Kim (Riley Keough), and infant son, Andrew, take the farm animals they’ve accumulated and take up residence at Paul’s forest estate. But paranoia is a harsh mistress, and tensions flare up between the two families soon after.
Watching It Comes at Night was like watching a zombie movie without any zombies appearing on screen. That’s not really a complaint mind you, as the zombie genre is far more preoccupied with the relationships between survivors amid an increasingly hopeless situation (see: Dawn of the Dead (both the original and surprisingly good Zack Snyder remake) and The Walking Dead). Now you do see the effects of the plague affecting the world on screen with Travis grandfather in the first five minutes of the film, but you’re not really explained what the disease does to the person or how to prevent infection or even anything remotely helpful to surviving an outbreak. That’s actually quite unnerving when you think about it. We’ve become so used to the idea that zombie infections spread through bites or blood transmissions, that the concept of a zombie disease isn’t really mysterious or terrifying anymore. Not revealing how the disease is contracted adds a wonderful sense of tension and dread that fills both the characters and the audience watching them.
Speaking of which, this film really knows how to lay the suspense on thick. None of your six characters are trustworthy, with each revealing small hints that they are keeping far more secrets than they are willing to divulge. So each conversation between the two families quickly becomes a tense standoff, particularly towards the end when a mystery is dropped on the laps of the characters, and no one knows who to trust…even the audience. The film itself never gives much away, playing it’s cards close to its chest and only giving you the need-to-know facts rather than spitting out everything at once.
“Now hold the phone,” some of you might say, “didn’t we just read that you weren’t a fan of Personal Shopper partly because of several unresolved threads? What kind of inconsistent critique is this?” Well, all 33 of you that read that review, my issue with Personal Shopper being coy with its plot was more to the fact the film didn’t reveal anything that would keep me invested in its story or characters. It Comes at Night, by contrast, gives enough details and reveals enough of each character’s personality that you are able to create a connection with each person before shit goes south. Also, the film doesn’t bum around for long stretches of time doing jack shit like Personal Shopper did; It Comes at Night clocks in at a lean 89 minutes, with barely any fat to chew on.
I do however, have two concepts with the film that bring this that may bring it down a tiny notch. First of all, is the actor playing Travis. See, I was able to understand every other character’s motivation and personality from the way they talked, to the way they moved, and the way they contorted their face when put in an awful situation. But Kevlin Harris, Jr. was given me a very odd performance in which I couldn’t get a read of what he’s actually going for. I don’t believe this was intentional either, as his character is the only one in which you experience his nightmares and you spend far more time with him than any other character on screen. Many times, his performance felt…strange, like he didn’t what to do in a particular situation, even though his lines state otherwise. It’s not a bad performance, but I wasn’t particularly crazy with it.
The other issue is the ending, which I personally didn’t have a problem with, but I know several critics are divided as to whether it’s weak or appropriate. I’m falling into the latter category, which surprised me because (and I’m seriously trying to avoid spoilers here) it ended on a very ambiguous note. Now, I’ve ragged on films like Swiss Army Man and The Neon Demon for ending in a perplexing matter, as if the filmmaker were to say “create your own damn ending.” I resented that notion in those films because everything else about the production wasn’t mysterious or purposefully confusing in either film, but It Comes at Night is a film all about paranoia. It concerns a disease that you’re really not sure how one contracts it or how to prevent infection. And it’s filled entirely with characters who cannot trust each other further than three feet away with guns pointing directly at each other. So the film deliberately was making you second guess their relationships and what exactly each may be hiding, so to end the movie in a way similar to that notion worked quite well.
At the helm is Trey Edward Shults, who’s quickly making a name for himself for independent thrillers. Last year, he directed the A24-produed Krisha, and he’s now up two critical hits at the ripe young age of 28 (Christ this makes me feel old). He’ll probably be up for some bigger projects in the future considering he’s been operating on micro-budgets for two films, so keep an eye out for him in the future.
His latest is a very solid suspense film that still managed to impress far more than any other other horror film I saw last year, and that’s including The Witch. I’m still hung up about the actor playing Travis though, and because he’s such an integral part to this film, I simply can’t ignore him. With that, I’m going to give this a low…