Monday, 19 June 2017

It Comes at Night | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Uncertainty and mistrust take the lead in post-apocalyptic realism at its best.

A sickness is on the loose. It kills quickly. Paul, Sarah, son Travis and dog Stanley hide out in an austere home within the woods. Though they’ve seen the toll the disease can take, they have no idea of the extent to which it has affected the world. And it seems like something else could be lurking out there. Then another desperate family (Will, Kim and young son Andrew) enters the home. Everyone hopes for a mutually beneficial relationship. Alas, this is a horror movie.

It Comes at Night, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, is a believable portrayal of what happens when two families, both intent on survival and burdened by mistrust, come together in the midst of an indeterminate threat. The film combines the stripped-down, post-apocalyptic feel of The Road (2009), the backwoods locale and defensive paranoia of The Walking Dead (2010–present), the intimacy of Signs (2002), and the tension and desperation of Breaking Bad (2008–2013).

It Comes at Night relies heavily on the unknown to build tension. For instance, the film reveals very little character backstory – it doesn’t even divulge their last names – because in this world of uncertainty and immediacy, the past carries little value. More than once, the camera focuses on a frightened Travis as he looks into the forest. What is he seeing? Travis’s foreboding dreams and the many instances of light moving through darkness enhance the effect. Additionally, Shults keeps tossing in wrinkles to keep Paul (and the viewer) unsure of his guests’ true motivations.

Worth highlighting is Kelvin Harrison Jr’s portrayal of an awkward teen struggling in extraordinary circumstances. Travis eavesdrops on the home’s occupants, tries to please a severe, though caring father, and deals with a crush on Kim (a subtlety that a less thoughtful film would skip).

Shults, perhaps taking a page from the brilliant horror film It Follows (2014), was wise to insert the word “It” in the title of his film. The pronoun underscores the film’s ambiguity. What, exactly, is “It?”

Don’t expect to see a lot of “the enemy” in this film, but do remember: some of the most frightening horror films in the last couple decades have employed that very strategy. So if you, like me, delight in films like The Blair Witch Project (1999) or Paranormal Activity (2007), then you’re going to enjoy this one. – Douglas J. Ogurek *****

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