IT COMES AT NIGHT review by Patrick Hendrickson – bad characters don’t ruin great horror

IT COMES AT NIGHT review by Patrick Hendrickson – bad characters don’t ruin great horror

It Comes at Night is director Trey Edward Shults’ new horror film about a family trying to survive a seemingly apocalyptic pandemic. The majority of the film takes place in their cramped house out in a deep forest where nobody can get in and very rarely does anyone go out. The protagonists of the film are a husband and wife Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their son Travis (Kevin Harrison Jr.), all three living in a barricaded house out in the woods in order to avoid exposure to the disease. The house only has one door which is locked at all times unless they are outside foraging for supplies.

The epidemic itself is only vaguely shown and I think this is point in the movie’s favor. To have a mass horde of infected people roaming around the woods would have been cliché and boring. The only symptoms that are shown are large blisters or lesions, vomiting of blood, and darkening of the eyes. The disease is highly contagious which causes Paul to insist on his family wearing gas-masks and gloves when in contact with anyone who could potentially be infected.

The plot starts rolling when an intruder breaks into the house and is captured by Paul. This burglar begs for them to share supplies with him and his own family which leads to Paul inviting them to live in the house. This intruder is named Will and is played by Christopher Abbott, his family includes his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner).

Every actor does a good job in their role but there are no standout performances. Everybody accomplishes what they need to accomplish and that is all that can be said. Each actor manages to put across the intensity and desperation of the situations they are placed in, but the score, the editing and the sound design are what really carry this film. The cast almost feels trivial and unnecessary to the dreadful feeling of everything going on. This is high-praise for the filmmaking but also a criticism of the acting.

The tension builds up expertly throughout, but usually there is a lack of pay off for that building anticipation. Things swell and swell before simply dissipating and returning to a lesser intensity. This is still preferable to an overabundance of jump-scares, as in typical horror films, but it would have been nice to have better pay-offs to some of the more tense moments. This intensity starkly overshadows any horror present in the movie. Travis is plagued by nightmares of haunting visuals of what could happen to him or his family and new-found friends. These are genuinely creepy moments and every one of them is striking and memorable.

The problem is that there is an over-reliance on Travis’ nightmares to contribute the majority of the horror which is alright during the earlier stages of the film but soon start to become a detriment. They border on becoming repetitive and at times they confuse the narrative. There are a few times where it is not immediately obvious what occurred solely in his dreams, what could have been a flashback, and what might actually have been happening as it was shown.

These dreams also have the consequence of making Travis the central character of the story, which would be fine but Harrison’s performance is probably the weakest of them all. He doesn’t do a terrible job by any means, but pales in comparison to Joel Edgerton’s aggressive performance as Paul or the somewhat enigmatic and mysterious characterizations of Will and Kim. Not a single one of these characters is very likable either. They are in a desperate situation and resort to desperate measures as a result of it, which leads to some particularly dark moments.

This production is raw from beginning to end without a single ray of light throughout. It Comes at Night has some very disturbing moments which should not be spoiled and which are well worth the price of admission. If the objective of a horror film is to horrify the audience then that objective certainly has been accomplished here. The characters are absolutely not good people, and in fact they are mostly horrible personas, but this fits with the tone.

It Comes at Night is a horrifying and nail-biting experience from the first scene to the end credits. It shows considerable skill in crafting an environment and setting filled with tension and dread and at times depression. This is not a movie that depends on jump-scares or gore or any other cliché horror elements to get under the audience’s skin, instead the main tool of this horror film is anticipation. There is not a single element of the production that does not contribute to the raw mood and there is nothing that takes away from it either. Because of this, I give the production a 5/5.

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