It Comes at Night and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24
Directed by Trey Edward Shults
I have to see movies ALL the time which means I see a lot of trailers over and over again, and while it doesn’t really affect my opinion of a film once I see it, it does make the movie going experience a bit more tiresome. That’s why I love it when there’s a trailer that genuinely intrigues me and does something different from everything else I have to sit through when waiting for the movie to start. That was the case with this film which was very minimal in its approach and yet EXTREMELY effective as it was mostly a long slow shot as we got closer and closer to a red door. WHAT’S BEHIND THE DOOR!? Well the day has come for us all to find out! Will this be a new benchmark for the horror genre, or was it a REALLY great trailer for a mediocre movie? Let’s find out!!
We start the movie with someone clearly dying of a horrific disease and their family surrounding them; wearing gas masks and saying their final goodbyes. The head of the household Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) take the sick man who turns out to be Travis’s grandfather (David Pendleton) out into the woods, put him out of his misery with a bullet to the head, and set the body on fire before burying it. Clearly something bad has happened to the world and this family which also includes Travi’s mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) is trying to survive. The modicum of stability they built up however is disrupted when a man named Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their house looking for food for his family, and after an intense interrogation scene Paul decides to let him and his family which includes his wife Kim and their little son Stanley (Riley Keough and a child actor known simply as Mikey with no other acting credits) stay in the house that’s been fortified to withstand… whatever it is that’s out there. Of course, this being a post-apocalyptic film, things start to go wrong rather quickly as the greatest threat is not the virus, or zombies, or whatever could possibly be happening… its MAN HIMSELF! Will everyone in this house learn to chillax and survive with one another, or are they all too paranoid to let the other’s live? What is Travis hiding from everyone else and what is the cause of these dreams he keeps having that are keeping him up at night? Is this gonna turn out to be a sequel to The Village!?
There are people who are gonna love this movie. Hell, there are plenty of people much smarter than me that have already sung its praises and gave it glowing reviews. Well guess what? I’m not one of them because I LOATH this movie. I absolutely detest this movie to my fucking core and could not get out of that god damn theater fast enough. Now maybe I’m biased considering how much this movie managed to push my very specific buttons when it comes to movies I hate, and I’ll even defend it in certain areas that other movies I’ve similarly despised were much worse in, but if you want my opinion, this movie is garbage. It squanders it’s potential, asks too much of its audience for what it ultimately gives back in return, and feels extremely pretentious; in that it delves into subject matters and ideas that are “heavy” and “deep” but only doing so in the most predicable and shallow of ways. Is it an earnest attempt to be a GREAT and meaningful movie? I… guess so, but it fucks it up so badly that I can hardly accept “good intentions” as a cover for what ultimately is an ugly and misanthropic mess that doesn’t have an original bone in its body.
So there’s gonna be A LOT to unpack from here on out there will be spoilers a plenty. If you don’t want to be spoiled for the movie, either go see it now or read another review because this is my space to vent my frustrations to the world and I’m gonna make the most of it. Now the first thing I want to do, rather than the go through the specifics of how THIS movie sucks, is to try and explain what it is about movies like this that I HATE so much and to give some examples of where I draw the line between wonderfully dark and depressingly hateful. For those purposes, let’s do a quick dissection of two movies I hate (The Green Inferno and Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door) and three movies that I like (Battle Royale, Hotel Rwanda, and Schindler’s List); all of which are similar in subject matter and… well I won’t exactly say TONE, but in how it tries to get a reaction out of the audience. What I’ve always tried to narrow it down to is “what’s the point?” as in what benefit do I as an audience member get out of being subjected to imagery this awful? With The Green Inferno and The Girl Next Door, I simply cannot find one. The Green Inferno feels like Eli Roth gleefully provoking the audience to get angry at his sadism (U MAD BRO?) which is not a compelling reason to subject myself to his witless garbage, and The Girl Next Door, while OSTENSIBLY about how fucked up and secretive the fifties were (put on a happy face and pretend everything is alright), either didn’t have the writing chops or the actual desire of the filmmakers to dive deep enough into that subject matter to justify what happens in that movie. This is why Hotel Rwanda and Schindler’s List work so well. Not just because they are EXTREMELY well made, but because they tell us more about the world around us by showing periods in history (neither of which are that long ago by the way) where humanity did succumb to its worst instincts and what good people can try to do in those situations. Now you may argue that it’s easy for historical movies to have that kind of a point because it’s holding a mirror to actual events, but that’s why I want to bring up Battle Royale. Okay, to a certain extent it IS gleeful in its exploitative aesthetic and pulp novel inspired premise, but the tradeoff between the horrors depicted on screen and the message about authoritarian governments as well as the exploitation of youth is a net positive for the audience, at least in my opinion. The themes and messages are potent and contrast with the violence extremely well which keeps it from delving into utter pointlessness and sadism. Similarly, the Battle Royale manga works less so than the movie BECAUSE they focused too much on the bloodshed and making horrible images; throwing off the balance that the movie had. Now to bring it back to THIS movie, I’m of the opinion it falls closest in line with The Girl Next Door; trying to have a message but not having one strong enough to justify what we’re subjected to in the movie.
Now before I rant and rave about how much this specific movie is a failure as far as balancing that investment of negative emotions with a worthwhile payoff, let me at least try to temper my outrage by listing what this movie gets right. The movie looks great with its use of shadows and tight spaces to really get across how unbearable this whole situation is and how paranoia can fester so thoroughly. The acting from everyone is solid across the board with Kelvin Harrison Jr as Travis being a standout as the teenager who’s still too young to deal with all this but is forced to grow up anyway. He’s dealing with a lot of trauma (particularly in regards to the death of his grandfather) that the movie does a great job of portraying, and yet he’s never able to get help for that because of the situation he’s in and the anxieties that are emotionally stunting him. If the story wasn’t so thoughtlessly predictable and it had a real message instead of wallowing in undeserved and unbelievable darkness the whole time, this could have been fantastic given the resources and talent they had on hand. Instead, we have a production that is doing its damnedest to polish this turd of a script to ultimately no avail.
Alright, let’s get into this. FULL SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT, SO TURN BACK NOW IF YOU REALLY DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS. The incredibly obvious end point of this movie is that Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo kill every last member of the family they brought in. They suspect one of them might be sick but decide they can’t let them go in case they come back (the fuck are they gonna do? Find a stash of guns and Mad Max vehicles just outside the woods and come back to storm your shitty castle?) and that they have to die instead. All of them plead for their lives, yet they blow them all away for the purposes of “protecting their family” which admittedly is similar to a scene in Battle Royale where the girls in the lighthouse all murder each other once the trust is broken between them (one girl tries to poison Shuya because she’s afraid of him, but accidentally poisons another girl). Now why does it work in THAT movie when it doesn’t work at all in this, also being aware that everything I’m saying is strictly my own opinion if that wasn’t clear enough already? For one, that’s the god damn climax of this movie while that was one part of a much bigger picture in Battle Royale. That was a low point in the story line, but there were also high points, character arcs, and a satisfying if bittersweet resolution that followed. This ending has no satisfaction and barely has any meaning; especially considering what the movie does immediately afterwards. It doesn’t have the guts to even address what just happened as the ending is absolutely one hundred percent independent of the event that just transpired. Travis finally gets sick from the same disease that had taken his grandfather and then dies. The end. No rebuke from Travis over the senseless murder of (presumably) innocent people. No closure for his story arc about losing control over his feelings in the wake of his grandfather’s death. No ultimate message about humanity. All we get is complete and utter ugliness (a child is shot dead and we hear the cries and screams of his mother before being shot herself) and then the movie is done. It has nothing worth saying after that, and what little it has to say (PEOPLE IN TOUGH SITUATIONS CAN DO BAD THINGS) is not in the least bit original or insightful.
Now this is even MORE of a personal beef than the other stuff (and something that wouldn’t have necessarily bugged me if I was enjoying the movie), but I have to argue that another reason the framing of this as good people pushed to the breaking point rings completely hollow is that the movie never really bothers to build up the world this takes palace in. I understand that’s INTENTIONAL, but the gaps this movie wants you to fill in about how bad the world has gotten are completely ludicrous and about as likely to happen as every human being getting zapped with evil rays to justify this kind of brutality towards each other being framed as a tragedy about good and normal people. Guess what, screenwriters! Humanity not only survived The Black Plague, but I’m also pretty sure no country out and out collapsed due to that disease that decimated nearly half of Europe’s population. Do people who write apocalypse stories like this have any idea how much would have to go wrong for us to be thrown back into the freaking Stone Age like this? And they expect ME to wrack my brain coming up with excuses for shitty characters to make THEIR unpleasant movie work? Fuck that. And my problem isn’t that THERE ARE BAD PEOPLE IN THE POST APOCALYPSE; it all comes down to the framing. No person worth rooting for would do what these characters did and yet the movie desperately wants you to follow the train of logic that would get us from point A to point Murder without framing them as evil; merely doing evil things out of stress and circumstances. I just can’t buy that, and the movie not addressing any of that by ending so abruptly afterwards is what ultimately makes me despise this movie as much as I do.
Hopefully I’ve at least made a decent case why this movie is not for me, and don’t come off as some raving curmudgeon who only wants sunshine and happiness in their movies. I mean sure, that would be AWESOME, but I’m not against bleakness in movies as long as it has a point. I don’t feel this one has a point worthy of everything that ultimately happens in here, and it’s hurt even more by just how unbearably predicable it all is as you know EXACTLY what’s gonna happen at the end because we’ve seen this kind of story before. If you want a movie like this that ACTUALLY feels important instead of just mean spirited and bleak, go check out The Witch (also an A24 movie) as it’s pretty much just as traumatic and disturbing, but is much more satisfying in its resolution and never feels the least bit trite. Oh, and one more thing! Despite the movie being called It Comes At Night, NOTHING COMES AT NIGHT! WHAT A RIP OFF!! ZERO STARS!!