Editor’s Note: It Comes At Night is currently playing in wide theatrical release.
It Comes At Night is, without a doubt, the best film of 2017 thus far. Riveting, engrossing, spellbinding - just a few words to describe It Comes At Night. With great performances from the entire cast, namely Joel Edgerton as a quiet, mysterious, “whatever needs to be done to protect my family “type of character. And honestly, that’s the most refreshing thing about this film - Edgerton’s character is driven by human emotion, and human connection - something that most horror films forget exist. In a genre whose characters are commonly “every man for himself,” the protagonists (and antagonist, actually), are driven by their emotions, rather than their own well-being.
Trey Edwards Shults’ shows that he understands cinema, and he understands how to craft characters. Often, we get the typical horror movie introduction - everything seems a little too good to be true, and everyone is enjoying themselves a little too much, then things start to go south. And in their introductions, most horror directors attempt to introduce the main characters to contrast what they’re like by the end of the film - almost like a “before or after” segment. But, rarely do horror films succeed in getting the viewer to actually, genuinely care about the characters.
That’s where It Comes At Night succeeds the most.
Shults gets the audience to care about the outcome of the family at stake here. From the very opening shot, the film hits you hard - it tells you that this is not going to be just another horror film with disposable characters. It establishes that these characters have real emotions, and we are able to empathize with them. And ultimately, I believe that’s what determines whether or not you enjoy the film. If you really do believe in these characters, and understand their motivations, you’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire film, waiting to see the outcome. But, if you’re unable to put yourself in the position of the characters, you’ll come out disappointed.
The main problem I’ve been hearing about is that there isn’t a big payoff at the end of the film. And honestly, I don’t see where that’s coming from, as I thought it was the perfect way to end the film - after the final 30 minutes, which are a culmination of anxiety and paranoia, the characters are confronted with a wave of acceptance and guilt, as they’ve failed in preventing the one thing they’ve avoided the entire film. There’s a quiet subtlety to the ending that ties the entire experience together - or at least that’s how I see it.
During my screening, nearly everyone in the theatre at the end of the film said “What? That’s the whole thing? That was terrible!” And I understand why some people were disappointed. The film is being poorly marketed, and being advertised as something it’s far from being. But, for me, that was good. It felt like I went into the film not knowing anything about it. But be wary, don’t expect what the trailers have seemingly promised you. Go into this film with an open mind, and whether you love it or you hate it, it’s definitely a unique, unforgettable experience.
In It Comes At Night, director Trey Edwards Shults shows that he understands cinema, and he understands how to craft characters.