It Comes at Night (2017) – HORROR FILM REVIEW – IN THEATERS NOW

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By Melissa Antoinette Garza

 

Tonight, my husband and I were supposed to go see RIFFTRAX Shorts as one of their Fathom events were being aired live in some theaters.  The cinema we typically go to wasn’t showing it so we had to make an adjustment.  We went to see IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) instead.

I chose the movie for a few reasons.  There wasn’t anything else I wanted to see.  I only had watched the teaser trailer for IT COMES AT NIGHT months prior and it looked as though it may have promise.  The teaser I remember simply showed the red door and I remember walking away thinking it was going to have some sort of monster breaking down a locked door to come into a family’s house.   Sadly, that’s not what we got.

Instead, the production was like SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960) meets CABIN FEVER (2002).  Without question the director/writer Trey Edward Shults dipped into THE TWILIGHT ZONE vault and borrowed a few elements from the episode THE SHELTER (1961).

Truth be told, THE TWILIGHT ZONE is my favorite show of all time.  Rod Serling understood the human mind and the facets of instinct, morality, and ethical dilemmas like no other.  His work is timeless.  There are modern shows like THE BLACK MIRROR (2011) and DIMENSION 404 (2017) that pay homage to the classic while making each episode their own.

There are films that have a certain genuine intellectualism and powerful message that would make Serling proud.  GET OUT (2017), TIME CRIMES (2007) and THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) are all fantastic and intelligent productions that don’t underestimate the audience or ruin itself by taking itself too seriously or feigning profoundness.

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As you can tell by this point, I’m not a fan of IT COMES AT NIGHT.  The premise follows Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who live in the middle of nowhere.  A deadly and contagious sickness is killing off humanity.  Water and food are scarce.  To ensure safety, when in the presence of other people, the family wear gasmasks, wash up after any interactions, and at night they lock the entrance and the exit.  Only Paul has the key in and out.

One night in search of water Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks in thinking the house is abandoned.  Paul ties him to a tree to ensure he’s not sick.  The next day, Paul finds out that Will has goats and chickens that he’s willing to barter for water.  Will also has a wife, Kim (Riley Keough) and a young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner).

At the urging of Sarah, Paul goes out with Will and brings his family and their animals back to his place as it will ensure they have enough water and food.

Things start off positive.  Paul and Will form a comradeship and overall the families get along.  Everything begins to go downhill when the family dog shows up with the illness and Paul needs to shoot him.   Travis tells everyone that he found the red door open when he found Andrew asleep in a different room.  The adults, unsure how the door was opened or if someone in the house is now infected, become paranoid.

Paul takes his family to his room and Will does the same with Kim and Andrew.  Soon, the two families are ready to kill one another to preserve their own well-being.

I have so many issues with this film, but I’m going to start off with the positive.

The acting was fantastic!  Edgerton and Abbott play great off one another.  Both when Will and Paul are suspect of one another and when they are getting along, the two do terrific.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. also delivered a topnotch performance and he had the most difficult scenes.  Travis had ridiculous nightmares and what was intended to be the most tension-building scenes.  Harrison had the atmosphere, the music, the special-effects, and the overall imagery working against him, yet he still came out making the audience root for Travis.

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Carmen Ejogo and Riley Keough were strong female leads.  The main focus of both Sarah and Kim was the preservation of their family – namely their son.  It is only Ejogo and Keough displayed such emotionality and a maternal bond that the parallel was made.  They did Shults work for him.

That sums up the positive aspects of the film.  Overall, IT COMES AT NIGHT is an empty movie that is so far up its own ass that it forgets to deliver on any of the stakes it puts out there.  Shults wanted to show the depths ordinary people will go in extraordinary circumstances, but that’s nothing new.  It’s been shown a million times before.  Shults wanted the audience to walk away seeing that all the characters actions were for naught and we do, but so what.  It doesn’t mean anything.  It doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. It doesn’t even answer the questions that it posed in the film.

For example, Will tells Paul he was staying at his brother’s but it later comes out he was an only child.  He downplays it by saying that he had been referring to his brother-n-law.  Now, this never comes up again.  From what I gather, Shults wanted to use it as a mechanism to build up the paranoia, but it’s never brought up again.

On one hand, the movie never settles anything it starts, but then on the other hand it bashes the audience over the head with the same shots, the same imagery and essentially the same conversations over-and-over.  So much of the movie is just filler.

IT COMES AT NIGHT could easily be shortened to 15 minutes and you’d lose nothing.   When I watched this movie, the only thought that came to mind was “this filmmaker must detest horror.”   Too many writers and directors, who hate the genre, make horror movies because they’re cheaper and they typically make money. You can generally tell when this is the case.  When the only thing horror related is the tropes of cheap jump-scares, it’s a dead giveaway.  It’s the films where the dialogue is too deep for the situation at hand or when it seems like all the characters enjoyed Philosophy 101 a little too much.  Essentially, it’s the filmmaker’s way of saying, “this is a smart horror movie.  I’m like Alfred Hitchcock not Sean S. Cunningham.”  The art of horror is completely lost on this sort; and what’s worse is their films come across as an insult to the fans.

When a writer/director has even a slight amount of the genius of Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock, they don’t feel the need to constantly put things in their movie to tell the audience how deep or smart they are.  When it’s honest and sincere, it shows.  That’s why GET OUT (2017) is so revered!  It’s genuine, it’s smart and at the end the audience gets more than what they wanted.

Here with IT COMES AT NIGHT, it’s all talk, no action, a few jump scares and a few moments put in just to shock and be viewed as raw – neither of which it accomplished.

 

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Scared Stiff Rating:  3/10