Dread, Paranoia, Violence Come at Night - Spoilers
It Comes at Night is an ominous dredge through the worst parts of human desperation. A constant feeling of paranoia and dread keep you glued to the screen. It Comes at Night gives the truly bleak feeling as any true horror film should. The masterful cinematography creates a beautiful yet dreadful piece of art like the painting the film always seems to come back to.
It Comes at Night is 28 year old Trey Edward Shults second feature length film. The movie centers on Paul (Joel Edgarton) and his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Traivs (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). They are living in an isolated cabin in the woods and we quickly find out why. Shults throws us right into fray as Joel and his family are dealing the death of Travis’ grandfather. It is clear the grandfather is very sick and based on the gas masks it is highly contagious. They put the grandfather out of his misery and burn the body.
That night, we see that Travis has trouble sleeping and is haunted by nightmares. The haunting visions that blur what is real and what is a dream for him are very important to the movie. Not only, do they provide for some very well done jump scares, but they also show the constant struggle the naïve 17 year old is experiencing.
One night, as Travis wakes from a nightmare he realizes someone is trying to break into the entrance of the cabin. Marked by a striking red door, this door is the only way in or out of the cabin. Once they get the door open, they find Will (Christopher Abbot), a mysterious man they do not know. Joel shows his desperation to protect his family; knocks Will out, and ties him to a tree outside as a precaution.
When Will is cleared of all sickness, Joel interrogates him and finds out he has a family not far. Joel cautiously agrees to take him to get his family so they can stay with him. Partly out of good nature, but also selfishly because he does not know if he can trust Will. They eventually bring back the family and we get a little bit of a break from the dread the movie brings.
For a little while, the families live in harmony sharing their chores and teaching each other. It is a nice little mirage, but as you would expect in a desperate situation, this does not last long. The loss of Travis’ dog Stanley sets forth a downward spiral of mistrust and paranoia we had felt for most of the movie. When Joel suspects Will’s son may be sick, the quarantine themselves from each other. Joel confronts Will about his family and the peaceful companionship violently ends.
The few criticisms I have seen of this movie so far are about the somewhat abrupt and ambiguous ending. I like these types of endings as it makes me consider meaning in films details to figure out what I think the movie means. As I alluded to earlier, a painting is shown multiple times in the film. This painting is “The Triumph of Death” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in 1562.
The Triumph of Death is, much like the movie, a painting filled with dread and meaning. It lines up perfectly with what I think the movie has to say. Many consider the painting to be depicting the plague, but others look at it as being about death in general. The painting depicts the inevitability of death. The film is a parallel to this. Joel believes his rules will protect his family much like the figures hide behind their crosses in the painting. The films forces you to accept this unhappy ending and further inevitability that no matter you do, you will die.
Every horror fan should see this movie. A tension-filled slow burn does not feel very slow, with strong emotional performances from a great cast, It Comes at Night is one of my favorite movies of the year. Trey Edward Shults has made a fan out of me and I’ll be keeping an eye out for future projects.