Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writers: David Kaplan, Andrea Roa
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo
Genre: Psychological horror
If you would have told a horror fan forty years ago that horror movies would one day become some of the most intelligent and bitingly satirical forms of media of their day, they probably wouldn’t have batted an eye. Fans of horror have long held the secret truth that horror movies are much more than jump scares and overt violence.
Since the early days of George Romero’s Living Dead trilogy, to the more recent Get Out, horror movies have always been the smartest kid in class; they just never got called on because they dressed weird. Well, after all these years horror movies (and fans) are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Not only are they getting called on in class, but they are asked to give a ten minute dialogue on Night of the Living Dead’s social commentary of 1960’s America. With one already great mainstream horror release this year (aforementioned Get Out), I am glad to say that It Comes at Night is just as great.
Violence/Scary Images: We see several infected people who have large boils and throw up black goo. A couple of dead bodies are burned (although they are wrapped up before burnt). Several characters are shot. We see a dog which appears to have been brutally attacked and a character repeatedly punch another man with bloody results.
Language/Crude Humor: Very little language with 2-3 uses of the F word.
Spiritual Content: Death and loss plays a large part in the movie. How do deal with death and loss are themes as well.
Sexual Content: We hear a couple having sex on two separate occasions although nothing is seen. A woman climbs on top of a man and begins to kiss him, but the scene quickly ends.
Drug/Alcohol References: Two main characters share a drink.
Other Negative Content: This is a movie about survival and the lengths one will go to survive. We see some very tough decisions being made and the effects of these decisions. I have to be vague so as not to give away any spoilers.
Positive Content: Family and taking care of them plays a huge role in the decisions that are made throughout the movie.
The movie focuses on a family surviving an outbreak that has infected the country. The father, Paul (Joel Edgerton), has boarded up the entire house and makes sure his family lives by a strict set of rules to survive, including the most important rule, to not go out at night unless there’s an emergency. The family’s routine is quickly thrown for a loop when stranger Will (Christopher Abbott), comes in contact with the family. He informs Paul that he also has a family who is very much in need of water and shelter. What follows is a story about trust, family, and fear.
Joel Edgerton is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. From a small role in the Star Wars prequels (a pre-burnt Uncle Owen) to his leading in the emotional Warrior, he has yet to disappoint me. This is an incredibly subtle movie and Edgerton carries a lot of that. From quick glances to slight eyebrow raises, he’s able to communicate lines of dialogue without uttering a word. Tough choices abound for him, and the audience can’t help but feel the weight of every decision with him. While he gives us a great character to connect with, the audience is seeing many of the events unfold through his son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.).
Travis a seventeen year old boy on the cusp of manhood, asked to deal with all the challenges of growing up while doing so in a world falling apart. His story arch is as much about survival as it is coming of age. Early on, he experiences and directly takes part in death and then must immediately deal with the consequences. We are with him as he deals with the loss of family, friends, and even his first forays into sexuality. We cheer him on because we can relate to all of these events. While no less heartbreaking as adults, we again get to remember, through Travis’ eyes, what these experiences were like.
In short, this is a beautiful movie. Like so many great films have done, the setting ends up being a character. The forest in which Paul and his family live is filled with as much beauty as it is fear. Its often too quiet atmosphere simultaneously boasts the foreboding creeks and rustling of leaves that sets the stage for coming events. Not since The Blair Witch Project have I felt such fear and dread while seeing shots of trees and foliage with no end in sight. Just like the surrounding woods, the family’s house also tells its own story: a story of loss, pain, and confusion. Lingering shots of doors and hallways create tension while also reminding us of the bleak world being presented. The house, along with the family, experience the minute by minute dread of not knowing what could go wrong.
The best horror movies are the ones that ask the most questions, but give the fewest answers. No one wants to see a horror movie where they show the antagonist within the first fifteen minutes. The most effective horror films introduce it slowly over time; a claw there or a shadow there, we know it’s evil and that it has ill intention for our heroes, but we don’t actually see it. And in rare instances, we never find out exactly what the villain is. Vague ideas of what it is are presented, but then quickly dismissed. Left to our own devices, we create a more terrifying monster in our minds. Although we know that there is an outbreak in this movie’s universe, it is only shown in glimpses. We don’t know much about it, but we quickly find out that it’s not the villain we first thought. The true evil that lurks in the hallways and corridors of the family’s house is much more sinister. It is something that is much harder to defeat because of how deeply rooted it is in all of us.
The movie does a great job of creating tension that doesn’t lead to cheap jump scares. This movie is not interested in entertaining a group of teenagers at the movies on a Friday night. This movie wants to get deep under your skin; so deep that three weeks from now you’ll be sitting in bed and slowly start to feel a tingle up your spine. It wants to make you think about bigger questions like “How far is too far?”, “What would you do to save the ones you loved?”, and “At what point do we become the monsters?”. This movie is meant to scare us and to make us question things about ourselves at a primal level. Many times, the monster in our story is one of our own creation and most of the time, we aren’t even aware we created it.
The Bottom Line