Friday, June 9, 2017

Bleak 'It Comes At Night' Is A Thoroughly Unpleasant Experience



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

It Comes at Night is a terrible title for a movie that has some horrifying moments but isn't really a horror movie, and where nothing in particular "comes at night." The premise — a post-apocalyptic world where some kind of disease has wiped out the majority of the population — is, after seven years of The Walking Dead, a bit old hat, though it isn't zombies the survivors have to fear here as much as paranoia, and themselves.

Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo are Paul and Sarah, parents to 17-year-old Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.). When we first meet them, they are wearing gas masks and talking to a visibly ill elderly man. The man turns out to be Sarah's father, who has succumbed to an illness that has no cure, and is highly contagious.

What they do with the dying man may or may not be the catalyst to what follows, as the now family-of-three confronts an intruder who has broken into their sealed-up country house as they slept. After knocking the man out and tying him up, Paul eventually learns his name is Will (Christopher Abbott) and that he came to the house assuming it was abandoned, only looking for clean water to bring back to his wife and infant son.

Whether to trust Will and help him, release him and risk his returning with bigger numbers, or just kill him are the hard choices the family must make in this new reality.

It Comes at Night is a claustrophobic thriller, with the majority of the action taking place in the barricaded, multi-storied house, with the dense woods outside always holding the possibility of hidden danger. Director Trey Edward Shults's use of the tight spaces emphasizes how trapped the characters are, both physically and mentally. Slow tracking shots down dark hallways build up tension, and the film's pounding score pushes that tension to its limits. Travis use of the house's attic to eavesdrop, as well as the muffled and half-understood conversations he hears, only increase the sense of paranoia.

And yet... most of the film's scares rely on the overused "It was just a dream!" trope as Travis has a series of nightmares. After repeated use, that device begins to lose effectiveness, especially when it's the growing panic and paranoia within the house that's the source of the real terror. It almost feels like the gross-out moments and jump scares were crammed into the film as a way to sell it as a horror movie, and not the psychological thriller it is at its core.

Those expecting a horror movie that's filled with a lot of those gross and scary moments will likely be disappointed, while those who might appreciate the film's less horrific storytelling will probably be scared away by the marketing. One thing's for sure: No one who sees this is going to come out of it thinking it was any kind of fun; it's one of the bleakest movies to be released this year.

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