Movie review: ‘It Comes at Night’ can go back where it came from
Three people in gas masks and gloves take a gasping, very sick old man out of a mostly boarded up house in the middle of the woods. One of them manages to softly say, “Goodbye, Grandpa.” Then the man is shot, burned, and buried.
Now, that’s a good first 3 minutes of a horror movie. If only the remaining 94 minutes lived up to it.
Once inside the house, the masks and gloves come off. Dad is Paul (Joel Edgerton), mom is Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their teenage son is Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). They live in this isolated place where Grandpa recently “got sick,” but his dog Stanley is fine. The house is filled with family photos, though they’re dominated by a giant print of Pieter Bruegel’s horrific painting “The Triumph of Death.”
Yes, it’s a good set-up. But why are they there, acting like prisoners under their own lock and key? Maybe that’ll be answered at nightfall, when noises outside lead to knocking, banging, SMASHING at a well-locked bright red door, and the family gets out guns and pistols to ward off whoever (whatever?) is trying to get in.
But it’s just a guy named Will (Christopher Abbot), who says he thought the house was abandoned and maybe there was water inside and he’s desperate to help his family that’s 50 miles away ... and when he’s finally asked, promises that he’s not “sick” like Grandpa was. Like maybe the rest of civilization is.
“As soon as people in the city started getting sick, we got out there,” he says with desperation to shotgun-wielding Paul.
But that’s about all the information we get about what’s happening. The script stays vague, which keeps the characters confused and frightened, and keeps viewers confounded. And that’s even before all of the false clues begin.
Yes, there are other people in the deep woods, and they’re shooting before they’re asking any questions. But are they with this stranger named Will? We don’t know. When Paul and Will go to get Will’s wife Kim (Riley Keough) and young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) and bring them back to the relative safety of the house, is that a good decision? We don’t know. Is confused and frightened Travis having vivid, gruesome nightmares or is he sleepwalking at night? We don’t know.
And hold on a minute ... what exactly is this “it” in the title? Certainly not whatever was banging at the red door; that was Will. Could “it” be what Stanley the dog senses and then runs after in the woods? We don’t know. Is “It Comes at Night” even what can reasonably be called a horror film? It seems to be more of a psychological study of paranoia, of what happens when people in distress are stuck together in a close environment, not aware of what’s happening outside, and not sure if they can trust each other inside.
The only thing certain is that there are some strange things going on within the house that range from Travis’ dreams (if they are dreams) to secret conversations behind locked doors (and one eavesdropper listening in) to one of the inhabitants suddenly appearing, all alone, in a room where no one is really supposed to be.
Questions arise concerning whether or not anyone inside has become “sick” and contagious. Tensions build and they lead to violence. What about whoever or whatever is in the woods? What is “it?”
Sorry, it’s all build-up with no payoff. Bad things happen but nothing is explained. Why is this movie called “It Comes at Night?” I don’t know, and that’s frustrating.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.
“It Comes at Night”
Written and directed by Trey Edward Smith
With Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough