Theatrical horror releases have been pretty thin this year so far. So when I saw the trailer for It Comes at Night, I couldn’t wait to get out and see it. The limited cast and ambiguous threat had me hoping for something like It Follows, but the film that was advertised wasn’t exactly the film I saw.
It Comes at Night centers around a family living in a post apocalyptic world where infection lurks around every corner. The film opens with the family being forced to kill the diseased grandfather. It’s an introduction that packs an emotional punch and sets the tone of the movie quite well.
From there on, our young protagonist Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) struggles to come to terms with the emotional reality of the situation. He is overcome by ghastly nightmares involving the sickness and his grandfather. Then one night a man breaks into their home. His parents (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo) and the intruder, Will (Christopher Abbott) form a tentative agreement to pool their resources. Will retrieves his wife and child (Riley Keough and Griffin Robert Faulkner) and the two families begin living together. At first, things are great, but then suspicion and paranoia begin to propel them all in a violent direction.
It Comes at Night has a lot going for it. The performances are top notch. I was especially partial to Harrison and Keough. All of the characters are well rounded and they all feel like real people. The relationships between the characters and the mounting tension create a palpable sense of dread. I’d compare It Comes at Night to The Walking Dead. Both rely on characters in desperate situations facing heavy moral dilemmas, where neither party is right or wrong.
In addition to the characters, the architecture of the cabin allows for a unique setting. With its narrow passages, woodwork, and the surrounding forest it presents a wide range of cinematography options.
The soundtrack consisting of a lot of low key drumming also stands out. It’s a sound I definitely haven’t heard in any other recent horror movie, and its a nice break from the usual orchestral or synth music that seems to pervade the genre.
Unfortunately, for all of its positives, It Comes at Night still doesn’t feel like much of a movie. It was halfway over before I could even figure out exactly where the plot was going. It’s only about 90 minutes, but it feels about twice as long. The supernatural threat alluded to is nonexistent. All of the nightmare fuel imagery is from Travis’s dreams, and those dreams are a rare occurrence throughout the film. In fact, not much happens in the movie at all. The characters are almost enough to make up for this, but not quite.
I tried to pinpoint why this film felt so lackluster for me, because on paper I should love it. Usually, psychological slow burn films are my favorite, but this one didn’t stick the landing. I think it’s because many of the scenes don’t serve to drive the story forward, so it starts to feel stagnant. When the climax finally came, it was about what I expected. Then it just sort of ends. Everyone in the theater started grumbling, saying things like “That’s it?”. I liked It Comes at Night, and I’m glad it’s out there because it is something fresh in this landscape of Alien and Annabelle sequels. Just don’t expect it to live up to the hype.