Saturday, 17 June 2017

It Comes at Night



If you glance through the major critics’ comments on the new horror flick, It Comes at Night, you’ll see quotes like the following: “I’m hard-pressed to think of a recent movie that’s as uncomfortable and disturbing;” “one of the most terrifying films in years;” “it becomes nearly unbearable at times;” “an almost unwatchable cruelty;” “soul-crushingly dark;” “left a preview audience as shaken as any I’ve seen;” “a nightmare within a nightmare;” “a test of nerves;” and “about as enjoyable for the audience as it is for the people in the movie.” 

There’s only one sane response to comments like these: “Run away!” So what the heck were you thinking, Vic, when you decided to go watch this ordeal, alone in an almost empty theatre? As usual, I’m glad you asked. The thing is that I recalled being intrigued enough by the film’s trailer, which I saw a month or two ago, to say to myself: “Depending on the reviews, I might want to watch this.” And my gut told me this was not, by my definition, in any way a horror film. About the latter, I was very much correct: It Comes at Night is not a horror film, though it has scenes that intentionally feel like horror. It does qualify as a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film, though only because it’s set in a dystopian near future. What this film is, is a dark (in various ways) psychological thriller full of fear and paranoia. 

The premise is simple: Something out there is making people very sick. It’s highly contagious and 100% fatal. It kills so quickly that you’re better off putting a bullet in your head the instant you experience symptoms. Paul (Joel Egerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their teenage son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) don’t know how many people in the world are still alive, or what is killing them, but they know there’s no electricity and food is hard to come by. So they live in a large house deep in the woods, a house they have turned into a fortress to protect them from people who might want to steal their food and water or who might be carrying the deadly disease. But someone manages to break in anyway. It’s a young man (Will, played by Christopher Abbott) looking for water for his family (he has a wife, Kim, played by Riley Keough, and a young son). How does one respond to such an intrusion? Well, first you put a bag over his head, tie him to a tree and observe him for 24 hours to see if he’s sick. I won’t reveal what happens after that. 

A post-apocalyptic plague-ridden world where resources are scarce and paranoia flourishes is hardly new material for books or films of the past few decades. Stephen King, with his masterful novel, The Stand, which does qualify as horror, was writing about this in 1978. What It Comes at Night has to offer, however, is a very tight, intense character-driven (Travis is a particularly well-drawn character) story that pulls no punches as it explores the fears and feelings of the film’s five adults. The acting is terrific by all concerned and the writing and direction by Trey Edward Shults give us an all-too-believable set of circumstances and human responses. 

Ultimately, however, the ending of It Comes at Night, while it may be credible enough and is certainly not a typical or predictable ending, doesn’t quite satisfy, at least not enough for me to consider giving the film ****. It does get a solid ***+. My mug is up, but, as you saw in the first paragraph above, this film will only appeal to a very limited number of people.  

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