There are two things that need to be made clear about It Comes At Night:
- It’s a good movie.
- It’s NOT the movie it’s been sold as.
It Comes At Night tells the story of two families as their lives intersect in a vague, undefined post-apocalyptic world. There’s a sickness spreading that moves between people from even the most minor forms of contact, though it’s never made clear how long this has been going on or how hard these families have had to fight to make it to the film’s story.
Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their 17 year old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) have their lives interrupted when Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks in during the night. After the first few tense encounters on offer here, Will’s wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) join them at the house. Things are okay for a while. Then they’re not.
And that’s pretty much it. But what It Comes At Night lacks in plot is (almost) made up for in tension and atmosphere. The house, despite its sizable facade in exterior shots, is claustrophobic, especially once all six characters fill it. The film’s dark, gloomy visuals are gorgeously shot, whether the characters are struggling to get by inside the house or outside its walls. The interactions, particularly between Paul and Will, start out pleasant enough, escalating at a confident pace until the film’s climactic boiling point. There’s no room for trust in this world, and the two families largely keep each other just distant enough—with the exception of Travis’ almost immediate crush on Kim.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room—the personal drama that is It Comes At Night can only very loosely be described as horror, but the marketing presents the film as a post-apocalyptic world with terrible, nightmarish monsters threatening to break into the house at night. In reality, it’s a film where bad things do happen at night, but they almost exclusively originate from within the house’s walls. Or within the characters’ dreams.
It Comes At Night is not a post-apocalyptic horror movie. It’s not a horror movie at all. The few scenes which could be considered horror, all of which appeared in the marketing as far as I could tell, were dream sequences. They’re far from the main focus of the film,—and equally far from the most interesting parts of it. As mentioned above, there’s more than enough tension driving the film along, but it hangs entirely on the interactions between the characters.
It’s that tension, and those interactions, that make the film a thoughtful exercise in psychological, cerebral drama. People can’t be trusted, even if they probably can. People are going to do bad things, even if they probably won’t. It Comes At Night features a bleak world, but it’s not really about that. It’s about trust and uncertainty. Paranoia and survival. Hopelessness and ruthlessness. The world is gone, and it’s never coming back. But the evils outside the house, if they even exist, don’t matter. All that matters is what’s inside your home—and what you let into it.
Trey Edward Shults has crafted a film that’s tense and gripping in the moment, but unlikely to resonate. The performances are fine, but none of the characters are developed enough for the actors to go to serious lengths with them. They spend time talking about the world before whatever happened happened, but there’s no real sense that they actually spent any time in it. It Comes At Night looks good and flows well, but it doesn’t come close to being the horror movie audiences will think they’re seeing and it falls short of being the resonant drama it could have been.