Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Disturbing Images, and Language
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
Written by: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner & David Pendleton
Going into 2017, IT COMES AT NIGHT was one of my most anticipated films of the year. The posters and teaser trailer looked rock solid, while the premise sounded right up my alley. The marketing and early reviews increasingly had me hyped to see a new horror flick that looked genuinely frightening. Then the backlash arrived because the film that A24 had been advertising wasn’t tonally accurate to the film that Trey Edward Shults made. IT COMES AT NIGHT is barely a horror movie. To describe it more accurately, this film is more like a depressing post-apocalyptic drama and it’s not a very good one at that.
Some vague apocalyptic event has hit the world and a contagious sickness means certain death for all those who contract it. Lucky for husband/father Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother/wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), this family of three has taken up residence in an isolated cabin that has plenty of food and clean water. When intruder Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their home, Paul ties the mysterious stranger to a tree and learns that Will was looking for supplies for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). Being good Samaritans, the family of three becomes a newfound group of six…until strange things occur around the property and rampant paranoia threatens to give way to darker survival instincts.
Nearly all of IT COMES AT NIGHT’s horror is regulated to a handful of nightmare sequences. Director/writer Trey Edwards Shults might be trying to show the viewer how these character’s mindsets were unraveling through these dream sequences, but this was a disappointing approach to the material. The dream sequences really add nothing much to the proceedings other than padding out the run time with spooky imagery that would have been so much cooler in the world of the movie and not the dreams of a character. Of course, the trailer milked the hell out of these nightmare sequences to sell the audience on a film that was never a balls-to-the-wall horror flick and makes the entire affair even more disappointing.
Even when taken as a depressing post-apocalyptic drama, IT COMES AT NIGHT is a mixed bag. There are good ideas here, but these are rarely fleshed out to a satisfying extent. The characters are well developed (more on that in a moment), but the events and plot points range from being too ambiguous for their own good to feeling way too rushed to leave an emotional impact on the viewer. The climax is ridiculously fast-paced and blows its load too soon after a relatively intense bit of set-up, leaving a couple of last minute twists to feel like half-hearted shrugs.
IT COMES AT NIGHT’s ambiguity will likely frustrate the hell out of most viewers. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who needs every piece of information spoon fed to me and I love when movies have scenes that can be read in many different ways. However, Trey Edwards Shults seems to be feeling too damn artsy for his own good and his film will likely leave a majority of its viewers underwhelmed in one way or another. We never find out the answers to big questions and we aren’t given enough clues to form our own theories. Shults apparently made the decision to leave the audience in the dark based on the idea that we’d know just as much as the clueless characters, but that doesn’t always make for good storytelling and it also knocked what might have been a great movie down to being a dreary disappointment.
While IT COMES AT NIGHT is not a good movie, it’s not for a lack of quality acting. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is convincing as teenage son Travis, who has a large role in the proceedings from both his hormones and naïve nature. Carmen Ejogo is good as Travis’s protective mother and Paul’s loving wife. Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough are believable as the new couple/parents in Paul’s home. Meanwhile, Joel Edgerton is fantastic (as usual) in the role of Paul. He plays a survivalist with good intentions and sometimes those intentions cause him to make rash decisions.
IT COMES AT NIGHT is a so-so post-apocalyptic drama and barely a horror movie at all. Loads of people will be disappointed by this film and it’s not hard to see why. I think that Trey Edwards Shults clearly had some cool ideas, but failed to fully implement them in ways that were heart-pounding, terrifying, and (most times) compelling. The acting is easily the film’s strongest aspect and the technical aspects are professional for a sophomore effort. Still, the film definitely isn’t for everyone and my overall thoughts about it are mixed. IT COMES AT NIGHT is okay at best, which is a real shame because this one could have been something special.