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It Comes at Night (2017); And Notes on Praising Mediocre Material

June 11, 2017

It Comes at Night is garbage–pure rotten crap. I hate to come down so harshly on someone’s personal art, but when that art seems so ambivalent to itself and life as a whole I feel that it’s begging for an odious critique. I haven’t been this annoyed by a film since Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber. Where Rubber felt like a trolling slap in the face to audiences, It Comes at Night doesn’t feel intelligent enough to even have a commentary or fully formed opinion on anything in particular. Instead the film unfolds as though it’s an undergrad’s introduction of a final term paper, which is probably why when the last scene faded to black and the first credit appeared on screen multiple moviegoers in my late night showing laughed out loud and I just audibly yelled “why?” at the screen.

Why did this receive widespread distribution? Who had the disposable income to throw thousands of dollars at such a half-baked idea? What did the producers of this film see in it? Why are people really praising the mediocre skills of Trey Edwards Shults?

To be clear, my frustration at this film wasn’t based on expectations. I knew nothing about It Comes at Night prior to walking in. All I knew was that when I asked a friend to hang out last week he suggested we see It Comes at Night. As someone who jumps to the notion of anything remotely related to horror/thriller I agreed without a second thought. I briefly skimmed the Rotten Tomatoes meter and saw that reviews of the film were mixed with a sharp divide between the fans and critics. This further intrigued. Would I take the side of the audience or the critic? Looks like I’m in the camp of the audience and I’m gunning for this movie’s credibility with a pitchfork in hand.

Initially, I wanted to read the review of every critic who rated this film highly just to make a personal point of ignoring films they praise in the future, but after getting two reviews in my eyes are sore from the amount of rolling they just endured. It’s irrational and unnecessary, I know, but I’m also punching into the keyboard at 1am, so I’m just going to revel in my initial reaction. Now, let’s get down to brass tacks of why It Comes at Night doesn’t work.

Set in some time and some place, a small family is in the midst of an epidemic. People have gotten sick and the family doesn’t know why or to what extent. All they know is that to survive they must stick together and kill anyone showing any signs of illness. Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), the teenage soon of Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), possesses a heightened awareness of the situation and is the most emotionally affected by the turn of events and gruesome lifestyle his family has adopted. While Paul mercilessly kills those he deems worthy under the guise of keeping his family safe, Travis undergoes nightmares and hallucinations from the stress. When a new family crosses paths with the trio, Travis and his family fully come to realize how far they will go to survive.

Interesting concept, right? And sure it is. At it’s best It Comes at Night attempts to be a meditative piece on the frailness of humanity when fear takes over. Fear makes us loose sense of all rationality and good judgment– the current state of affairs in the world at large is testament to this notion. But let me emphasis the word attempt here. Just because It Comes at Night tries to be socially reflexive doesn’t mean it succeeds. In a drudging pace, It Comes at Night drones on and never quite says anything of substance by its end.

We are stuck with six characters we aren’t allowed to know. The only sympathetic characters among them–Will (Christopher Abbott), his wife and child–are constantly denied audience allegiance because the narrative tells us we aren’t meant to the trust them. So we wait for an hour and 30 minutes watching these people interact without ever knowing anything of value about them or about what’s happening around them. Any time we have the opportunity to gain some background knowledge on why we’re even here, Paul makes it a point to cut ties.

And then the film ends. Nothing to come away with, nothing to contemplate because it was all so shallow that you can debate it during its run time. Not only are we left with a film that doesn’t really say anything, but also one that lacks any truly compelling visual cues with an atmosphere of tension that is adequate at best. It Comes at Night felt like watching the pilot of a television show. It’s an interesting enough start that if this were a miniseries it could possibly blossom into something poignant and creepy. Rather than giving it that room to breathe, it became stifled of any momentum when it was made into a film, one that will burn and flutter away in the recesses of my mind after this review. I can’t wait.

AVOID IT. See Wonder Woman or something instead. 


2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2017 2:18 PM

    Oh man…this review is so disheartening considering I wanted to see it. I read somewhere that if you enjoyed The Witch, you’ll equally enjoy this one. If that’s the case then I’ll be okay.

    • June 11, 2017 5:42 PM

      Definitely see it as you might get something out of it that I didn’t. I LOVED the Witch but I think the only reason this is getting Witch comparisons is because of its slow paced atmosphere. The Witch did a phenomenal job of creating tension and creepiness largely because the director knew what he was doing and the score was killer. It Comes at Night felt amateur and when there’s an ever present heightened sense of tension it prevents any shocking moments from happening.

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