Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr
Directed By: Trey Edward Shults
Plot: A family (Edgerton/Ejogo/Harrison Jr) lives in the woods, secluded from civilization, after it is suggested that some virus is tearing through humanity. Will (Abbott) breaks into their house, thinking it is abandoned, looking for food, and is confronted with this family living in hiding. Will is trying to protect his own family, and do what’s right for them. This is not a zombie film.
Some Pre-Thoughts: Sometimes I do this. I add another paragraph when there’s something I want to talk about. First, before I get into the film, let’s talk about marketing and how that relates to this film. Having now seen It Comes At Night, and having listened to the discussion about this film from some critics, and a ton of pissed off fans, what I can say is that this film had a misleading marketing campaign. In fact, I’m not sure this film should have been given a wide release. I think this is the kind of indie horror film that could have grown to have something special on its own, as people found it on their own. Ideally, Netflix would have been the best distributor for this genre-challenging film. I’m a little surprised no one looked at this film pre-release and said “should we be releasing this wide?” or “are we marketing this film correctly?” It has led to a lot of confusion and anger among horror fans who felt the film misrepresented itself. That is not the fault of the director who made a film, and handed it over to the studio hoping for the best.
What Works: I think, for the most part, if you take a lot of what I just said out of the equation, this is a good film. It’s not a great film, but it’s not the “piece of trash” that IMDB users would have you believe. They were lied to. I get it. But sometimes you have to separate two parts and analyze them differently. The film itself is well shot, often choosing really interesting lighting and camera angles. It creates tension and builds tension well, without ever really showing you anything directly to be scared of. The characters genuine reactions are enough to fuel the film, and the performances from the actors are really good. Edgerton is very unhinged here, and he’s terrific. This film never terrified me, though it did have me feeling uneasy at times, and on the edge of my seat.
What Doesn’t Work: To that, part of it was I kept expecting something to happen. I kept expecting to know what comes at night. I’m torn with whether or not it was a good or bad decision, and I was left with one thing, and this is a little spoilery, but it happens early in the film. When the filmmaker decided to have Will tied up overnight, and yet nothing came for him… that was the moment when you needed to show us what “It” is. That was the moment where you, as a filmmaker, decided to blur our trust with you. The rest of the film doesn’t hold up the way you want it to, because Will made it through an entire night in the woods, unharmed. And he didn’t even mention whether he had seen anything. So is there anything out there to be afraid of? Aside from the dream sequences, there isn’t anything to suggest that. It’s possible that nothing comes at night, and people just get sick and die, and Joel Edgerton is a paranoid fanatic. When you tied Will up, that’s when you lost your audience. Had Will never been tied up, I think the film would have worked as intended, with paranoia being allowed to run rampant. Sure, something attacked the dog, but that could have just been another animal. Dogs get attacked like that all the time. I also think the dream sequences are a cop out, to assist in building scares, but are wholly not necessary.
Final Word: If this had been allowed to be an indie horror, challenging some of the tropes of the genre… I think it’s so close to being a masterclass in tension building. The idea that we have to be shown something to be scared of it, is silly. Had Will not been put outside, and survived, I would have completely bought this entire film without ever knowing truly what “It” is. That’s just a fumble on the directors part, not realizing that he has one moment that he just needed to cut. I also think the dream sequences didn’t need to exist at all. I think the film did a good enough job, outside of those sequences, building tension and getting us afraid of something we can’t see. This is not a perfect film, but there’s a different cut of this film that could have been. Perhaps, one day, Shults will sit back down and take a second pass in the editing room. If you’re a fan of horror films, you may or may not like this, depending on how you like your horror. I think this challenges typical conventions, and that’s why I like it, but you might want your horror films with jump scares and gore, and in which case, I completely understand. There’s something very interesting and different about this film, and I do wish more people could just appreciate that aspect of it. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, it certainly isn’t a bad film.
Final Grade: B