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It Comes at Night (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

It Comes at Night


Starring Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner, David Pendleton, Chase Joliet, Mick O’Rourke and Mikey the dog.

Screenplay by Trey Edward Shults.

Directed by Trey Edward Shults.

Distributed by A24. 97 minutes. Rated R.

Okay, I’m just going to out and say it: I’ve fucking had it with post-apocalyptic melodramas.

It Comes at Night may not necessarily be a bad example of its genre – though it certainly is not a particularly good or enjoyable film – but the whole last-survivors-braving-a-barren-wasteland idea has so run its course. From Resident Evil, to Divergent, to The Road, to Maze Runner, to The Book of Eli, to The Planet of the Apes, to The Divide, to I Am Legend; we’ve all seen it before. Over, and over, and over, and over again.

It’s not that these stories can’t be done well. Check out Stephen King’s novel The Stand or its early 90s miniseries. Mad Max was sort of goofy fun in its over-the-top violence. At the time when it was a more rare idea, I loved Logan’s Run. And the FOX comedy The Last Man on Earth has figured out new things to do with the concept.

It’s just that increasingly the filmmakers are using the situation as heavy symbolism and not bothering to flesh out their characters. We never really get a rooting interest as to if the people we meet live or die. In fact, the films make survival seem less attractive than a violent painful death. Here’s an idea: how about a super-virus that kills everyone. No tiny enclaves of survivors. Total annihilation.

But fine, that is not the world of It Comes at Night. So, let’s take the concept as it is.

It Comes at Night is very minimalist as far as post-apocalyptic films go.

It is never quite explained what caused the holocaust that wiped out the world in this film. It takes place in the apparent very near future, if the vintage of cars and technology are to be believed. It appears to have been some kind of deadly virus… but there are also hints of wild things out in the woods at night. Wolves? Zombies? Hooligans? Bats? Rabid dogs? Witches? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Encyclopedia salesmen? Who knows? Who cares? It Comes at Night doesn’t bother to explain.

We also do not know how extended the apocalypse is beyond the small scope of the film (about ten miles of woods) and how many people have survived out there in the world. There are only nine people (and one dog) shown in the entire running time of the film… and two of those are nameless, faceless poachers who are killed almost immediately. However, at least two families of three have survived together, so there must be more, right?

Perhaps, but it doesn’t really matter, because these six people – particularly the male heads of the households – are so paranoid and determined to protect their families that they will not give a second thought to killing one of the few surviving strangers.

The story takes place after the super-virus (or whatever) has already attacked. Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), their teenaged son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Sarah’s father Bud (David Pendleton) have transformed their home into a bunker, building fake walls and a series of doors to make their home look deserted and to keep the world out. They live in fear of bumps in the night. They have plenty of water (they live near a well) but are running out of food. Eventually Bud contracts the sickness and they have to dispassionately burn his body.

Inside the house looks pretty much like it must have in the pre-virus days – other than the lack of sun from the windows. However, they have a generator and electricity, they watch old videos, read, play with the dog and try to live life as normally as possible.

Things change when Will (Christopher Abbott) stumbles upon their house, claiming he thinks it was abandoned. Paul and Travis ruthlessly knock him out, tie him blindfolded to a nearby tree and leave him out a few days to see if he will die or be killed. He survives, so they go to see what his story is. He claims he left his wife and toddler son a few miles away to find someplace safe to live. While Paul does not trust the man, he claims to have food (goats and chickens), Will and his family have water, so they make an uneasy truce. Will and his family can live with them for a while as long as they follow the strict house rules.

Paul and Will become friendly, but Paul always notices when one of Will’s stories does not make sense. Travis, teen hormones ravaging, starts to have sexual thoughts about Will’s pretty young wife. They are all getting cabin fever and no one really trusts the other family.

Nothing good is going to come of this.

Truth is, most everyone here is a selfish asshole – and the purported “main” character is by far the worst of the bunch – and I couldn’t be bothered to care if any of them lived or died.

The story is slow-moving, not much happens and when things do spiral out of control it is predictable and all rather sordid.

I know the end of the world isn’t supposed to be a fun thing, but a movie is. Watching It Comes at Night is almost as much of a trial for the audience as it is for the characters.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: June 9, 2017.

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