A red door and the bubonic plague. These are some of the words that come to mind when I think of It Comes At Night. Considering the amazing A24 producing and distributing it, I knew that this was not going to be conventional horror fare. It was instead going to be on the lines of The Witch and It Follows ( not the same ‘it’ I think). And like many of these films, the monsters are not physical; they are psychological.
However, many of the trailers and promotional material hint at a physical monster, or at least some physical manifestation of the psychological. However, we get neither, much to the dismay of the crowd that I saw the film with. In these types of moments, I often scoff, presuming that the people who hated this movie are “not thinking about what they saw.” Regarding this movie, however, I cannot blame them. The marketing promises a scary entity or force, but we were misled.
At the same time, I cannot fault the marketing though. How does one market a atmospheric and post-apocalyptic family invasion story that offers a meta-analytical discussion of paranoia and the horror genre itself? It’s a bit of a deal-breaker. In an attempt to divert from the negativity, there are many elements of the film that work. Trey Edward Shults provides an assured direction; he knows what he is doing and is executing it. He reinvigorates potentially derivative post-apocalyptic elements (The Walking Dead and The Last of Us) with a methodical pace and tension-laden visual style. His mastery of one-point lighting and the film’s unique visual aesthetic is salient. The performances are amazing across the board, with special emphases to those of Joel Edgerton and Kelvin Harrison Jr. There is often a desire to alter the aspect ratio of the screen, a technique that runs contrary to audience immersion and instead is fueled by auteurist/authorial commentary, a trait common to French New Wave Cinema and other Post-Modern Cinema.
The film introduces many elements, yet by the resolution, there is a dearth of answers or clues, even for the most eagle-eyed viewer. Perhaps this is by design. Perhaps the audience is supposed to be confused, and therefore, afraid of the answers, similar to the characters in the film. This is certainly praise-worthy and unique, but personally, despite all the great craft, I was left underwhelmed. Underwhelmed that the director could not even throw us a bone. The fact that I want answers in the first place is a testament to the great filmmaking in display.
For many, this is a film that will frustrate. For others, this is a film that will rivet. I fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless, any prospective filmmaker, film enthusiast, or open-minded appreciator of art needs to experience It Only Comes At Night. For horror enthusiasts and general audiences, I would recommend it only if you are willing to temper your expectations and go for something a lot different than conventional fare. A major kudos to A24, Animal Kingdom, and Trey Edward Shults for their dedication to personal/original visions and cinema that breaks away from the beaten path.