Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: I know what the "it" is, in "It Comes At Night"

It Comes At Night Review
A24 is a studio that has been interesting (to say the least) to see unfold as a business over the years. They curate a wide range of genres and experiences and they are clearly unafraid to champion movies they believe in. There isn't another studio I can name right now that would have take a chance on something like "It Comes At Night." If anything, that should be important to note. So many studios today plan their years on the tent poles, and nobody takes risks or chances anymore. Which makes A24 as a studio stand out, for better or for worse.

Their latest entry comes in the form of the horror genre. Although I don't know if I would call "It Comes At Night" a horror movie. Yes, there are some psychological horror aspects in the movie. Yes, it has a plot that is ripe for the horror genre. Yes, there is moody scenes, moody characters and moody musical scores. But I don't think the movie is particularly scary. I am also just not sure if horror was what the filmmakers had in mind. This is a movie that builds suspense slowly throughout the film, and feeds on the paranoia brewing within the small cast of characters in the film. There are no boo-scares, which is refreshing to see. There is minimal gore, but I will say there is blood there, just not an over-saturation of blood that we are used to in horror films today. But the way the film is written, how the story plays out and how the characters move along here. I don't think it qualifies as horror. Definitely a thriller with psychological aspects. If that makes any sense at all.

The film's storyline is simple. A deadly virus has riddled the USA? The World? We focus on a family as they survive, day by day. There has been a routine created by the family and a certain set of rules they don't dare break. We meet Paul (Joel Edgerton) the father of this family, his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their seventeen year old son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison). At the beginning of the film, Sarah's father has been stricken with the deadly virus. Even though he's still alive, Paul and Travis venture into the day with gas masks and gloves. Shoot and kill Sarah's father and then burn the body. Then they go back and lock the quarantine doors. Right from the beginning, there is a jet-black world of survival set up within the characters. Its so routine and matter-of-fact that its disturbing that they even have to live this way to survive. But the sickness itself seems gruesome, and you wouldn't want someone you love to come down with such a thing.

Then one night, a mysterious man tries to break into their house. Paul swiftly captures him. The man's name is Will (Christopher Abbott). Will says he has a family and that he was searching for water. He offers Paul a trade of food for water. Paul doesn't know whether to believe him or not. But he takes a chance and follows Will home. Paul takes in Will's wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). Slowly a trust between the two families is formed. And of course, something will come up to test the families and their newfound trust they built together. 

The film does a fine job of building such unbearable tension that you want sudden relief immediately. But you never once get it. "It Comes At Night" is a grand example of less is more. Its amazing how suspense and tension can be created by basically nothing on screen. Its a mostly well-written script, and the building of suspense feels organic and natural. The roles are pitch perfect across the entire board, and Kelvin Harrison in particular stands out. He makes the film his own solely based upon his performance. If enough people see this, Harrison will have a long and lengthy career, bar-none.

One of the most astonishing problems with "It Comes At Night," and I can't believe I am saying this, but I feel could have benefited from more exposition. Yes, usually movies unleashed too much exposition,but "It comes At Night" should have pumped the breaks and explained more. We learn from the film that the sickness is possibly airborne, possibly spread through touching blood. But the rules of the sickness are never explained. Characters walk freely throughout the day, but get very nervous, don't leave the house, and when they do wear gas masks and other protection during the night. Our humans more susceptible to the disease at night? Has this disease reached all of the United States? Has this disease reached all of the world? We never find out the answers to any of these questions. The movie never stops to explain anything, while that is welcoming, its too far to that corner of storytelling.

There are also several story threads brought up in the film, that I can't believe don't get resolved. When Travis sees Kim, its clear he finds her attractive. The movie plays with the idea of these two people being attracted to each other, even though Kim has a kid and a husband. But nothing materializes from that story. Something big happens that gets both families not to trust each other, a whodunit mystery that sets off all the paranoia, but that part of the film is never resolved. Even though I find it fantastically important to find out who did that one thing that drove the wedge between these families. Much of the movie deals with Travis' nightmares as he reacts to his stress with each new situation his family encounters. While I think the nightmare material is effective, it mostly leads nowhere, and brings no significance to anything else happening onscreen. Is Travis upset? Is he overly stressed out? Does he have some kind of disorder? Can Will's family be trusted? Are they trying to destroy Travis' family? None of this is explored, for a movie that's not even too hours, I wish I had more time to get things explained. 

There is lots to like about "It Comes At Night," but there is just as much that is frustrating to the viewers. This is definitely not a horror film for everyone. This is a movie that leaves you with questions, and they don't get answered. It doesn't play like a conventional horror film. It features a slow burn and works as an experimental and psychological experience. That's not every horror fans cup of tea, so just know up front that this is not an experience for everyone. I also think the film's ambition is ultimately its undoing. But so much works with "It Comes At Night" that its worth a look.

FINAL GRADE: B


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