Just when you thought it was safe to go back outside…
It Comes at Night
By Jason Wiese
Here lies yet another edition of a similar predicament I have had recently when writing reviews: avoiding spoilers. It sounds easy and it is always goal when I write film reviews, but every once in a while, a film is released in which the real source of its power is the element of surprise. There are very few details I can mention about the plot of the latest horror film distributed by A24, It Comes at Night, without giving away anything that may diminish the power of the film if revealed. In fact, I would rather you stop reading my review at this very moment before I make my attempt to describe the plot as subtly as I can so you will still be able to enter the film blind.
Go ahead. I won’t be offended…
But if you chose to stick around, what I will tell you is that It Comes at Night, the sophomore feature from writer and director Trey Edward Shults, centers on a man named Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife, Sarah (Alien: Covenant’s Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) as they struggle to create stability in their secluded backwoods home in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event.
Before you begin to assume anything, no, this is not your typical post-apocalypse film, a subgenre that exploded into popularity following the first season of AMC’s The Walking Dead. However, The Walking Dead is a fair point of comparison. Like other descendants of the subgenre, Night has traces of Romero, but almost entirely from the thematic perspective. The structure incites flashbacks of the grassroots of Spielberg’s career, with a chilling, unflinching tone that would keep Hitchcock up at night. Also, to relate back to the aforementioned apocalyptic TV series, many of the best moments remind me of The Walking Dead in the sense that that show has not delivered realism and pure, consistent, character-driven intensity in a long time. My explanation for its current creative slump: too much emphasis on the threat the characters are facing.
When I look back on the most memorable moments of the series’ past seven seasons (and counting), rarely was there a zombie involved. Shults understands that the physical consequences of the threat the characters face is not what is important. In fact, the threat itself does not need to be important either. As long as its presence and influence to the story is clear without an overexplanation, that plot point has done its purpose. It is the psychological consequences that are the true source of terror.
This film is dynamite, very quiet and reserved dynamite, but an explosive jolt of deliciously unique genre mastery nonetheless. The acting is perfect. Shults’ screenplay is rich in complexity. The terror is real. Best of all, it delivers the exact, pitch perfect amount of subtly that I have been looking to see in a horror film for years. It Comes at Night is not a story about humans battling monsters. It is not even a story about dehumanization. This is a story about who a human being becomes in the face of pure hopelessness.
Published to Newstime and The Lincoln County Journal Friday, June 9, 2017