Quick Hit: Slow burning and tense from the start to the finish.
There’s a large portion of horror movies that seem to be coming out that reflect back to an older time, when jump scares were less important, and a slow burning horror was more of the norm, rather than the exception. A large part of that is A24, whose recent releases of The VVitch, Green Room, and the like have brought this back into vogue. A24 continues this with It Comes At Night, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults.
This movie is the epitome of a slow burn, but it is wonderfully acted and presented. From the opening frames (which deal with the euthanization of an elderly man), there is an intense sense of unease that exists. The film is shot in a way that is indicative of handheld filmmaking, but it’s much cleaner than that. There’s also the movement and speech of the characters, which includes muffled speech behind gas masks, whispers, and yells. The film isn’t interested in explaining what happened, why it happened, or who it happened to. For all we know, this could be local, regional, or even global. All that matters is the survival of the family.
The family is led by Paul (Joel Edgerton). His wife and son follow his instructions and rules as if law, because they’ve made it thus far without being infected. This occurs until the arrival of Will (Christopher Abbott), who Paul doesn’t trust at first. Eventually, this icy relationship suffers, and the two families merge into an idyllic existence. Because you know this is a horror movie, it’s understood that this won’t last.
That’s further communicated with visions, or nightmares experienced by the son, Travis. If there is a person that exhibits the difficulty of this world, it’s Travis, and these reflect that. By limiting pieces of the scope of this world to Travis’s interaction, it’s a way of tightening the scope of the story. At times, this focus shifts from Travis to Paul, and the camera responds to this changing perspective. It’s a bold and brave technique, but it’s really effective at making the viewer uneasy – like you aren’t quite sure that it’s coming.
The acting in this is fantastic. Edgerton (who is now seemingly in everything we watch here at DFP – see Loving, Midnight Special, The Gift, Timothy Green) completely embodies the role of a father who is just trying to keep his small world together. Edgerton continues to play the role as much as old school knight as current father. He’s only doing what he can to protect his family. Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) also does well with some tricky situational acting – that of a young boy discovering his sexuality, of a young boy who enjoys eavesdropping, and of a young boy growing up in a world that is falling apart.
The best thing that I can say about It Comes At Night is that it reminds me of a Cormac McCarthy novel. It’s bleak. It’s devastating. And the ending hurts just as much as you would expect. This isn’t a film with a “final girl.” This is a film that hurts you emotionally, and doesn’t give you the payoffs you’d expect. But it’s also a thinking person’s horror film, and I quite enjoyed it. I’m giving it an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"