by Sherry Lipp
The Lowdown: Dreary and depressing story that ultimately goes nowhere despite a tension-filled promsing start.
I couldn’t help but feel like I’d been tricked after watching It Comes at Night. Maybe it wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers to market the film as a traditional horror, which it’s not. I don’t mind that, however, marketing aside, the title is incredibly misleading. What comes at night? Night is only slightly more terrifying than the day in this bleak end-of-the-world film. If you’re up for something beyond depressing then this might be the film for you.
The one saving grace of the film is that the actors are totally committed to their roles and I really believed they were in a state of isolation and hopelessness. At the beginning of the film we see that some sort of highly contagious plague has destroyed life as we know it. We see the world only through the eyes of a single family who is trapped in their remote home without electricity, phones, internet, or anything else that might connect them to the outside world.
The father Paul (Joel Edgerton) has a strict set of rules for keeping his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) safe. Despite their isolation circumstances, and a recent tragedy, the family doesn’t seem all that unhappy. They’ve fallen into their survival routine and seem to be getting by fairly well. Everything changes when Will (Christopher Abbot) breaks into their home in search of supplies.
The family is soon joined by Will’s young wife Kim (Riley Keough) and toddler son Andrew. With the routine broken can they still survive? For a while It Comes at Night presents a tense and realistic look at what life shortly after the breakdown of society might look like to outliers who haven’t been caught up in whatever chaos has happened in highly populated urban areas.
The problem with the film that there is no payoff to an interesting set up. I was left wondering why I had just spent all this time invested in this story and these characters for an overly logical and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion. The way film hits some horror movies tropes and then leaves them hanging almost feels like it’s making fun of the audience for expecting more to come them. The family dog runs into the woods after a mysterious sound and Will is caught in an obvious lie. Is it wrong to think (and hope) these things would add a little spice to the story?
Because this film doesn’t want to tell a traditional story, I was left wondering what it was trying to say. At its core It Comes at Night tells us not take risks. Stick to the routine, do your job, don’t talk to strangers, and you’ll be fine. Stray from that and you’ll die. Or maybe it’s trying to tell us that making an effort to change your circumstances is an exercise in futility. Either way, it’s a strange message to send.