Monday, February 24, 2020

The Creature Columns: It Comes At Night (2017)


*Because of the nature of this review spoilers are somewhat necessary.

While I do not put tremendous stock in Rotten Tomatoes scores, they can sometimes serve to tell a story. Such is the case for the excellent film by Trey Edward Shults, It Comes At Night. The film was surrounded in controversy back during its release because many people felt that it was marketed in a deceptive way. Some in the horror community were disappointed by the film because it was not what they were expecting. They claimed that the movie failed in its execution, and many audiences openly spoke against the movie. They cited plot holes and profound disappointment as reasons. However, critical acclaim was high. As of this writing, the critical score on Rotten Tomatoes is at 87% while the audience score is at 44%. Before I delve into the film itself, I would like to make a suggestion. Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinion, but I think modern audiences are cheating themselves out of some amazing cinema experiences by not carefully considering the entire purpose of film. People went into this movie with expectations. They wanted something to be lurking in the darkness in a literal manner. When they did not get what they wanted, they decided that the movie was bad. I think it is a disservice to film to judge a movie based on an individual’s expectations. I honestly believe the best way to view cinema is with an open mind while simply taking what is offered and processing it as a whole. We certainly all have expectations, but if we can govern those we can gain much more from cinematic offerings than simple surface perceptions.


WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

The entire premise of the film is that a plague of apocalyptic proportions has struck the earth and many have died. One family is holed up in a remote house. They never go out at night except for extreme situations. The film opens with the death of the sick grandfather figure and the burning of his body. The family does what it has to in order to survive. This includes shooting the grandfather as he begins to succumb to the disease. The family has a dog that is very special to the son Kevin. The father, Paul, played by the amazingly stoic Joel Edgerton is extremely protective of his family. At one point, another man attempts to break into the house and Paul captures him, ties him to a tree outside, covers his face, and leaves him to scream for a day. Finally, Paul is convinced that the stranger is not infected and makes an uneasy treaty with him. The two set out to retrieve the stranger’s family. They are assaulted on the road, and Paul mercilessly kills his attackers. This seems to be an overall theme of the film. There is no mercy for strangers.
The two families combine their resources, and we are treated to a fantastic time of character development. They are shown working, playing, and living together in harmony. However, there seems to be an underlying sense of mistrust from Paul towards everyone in the other family. We are even given hints that he may be correct. Christopher Abbot, who plays Will, seems to be a similar kind of man that Paul is. He just wants to protect his wife and small son. All of this comes to a head when Paul’s son Travis finds the red door open at night and Will’s young son in the wrong room. The young boy is apparently a sleepwalker. The family comes unhinged when the dog vanishes and then is deposited at the door after being mauled. The animal is dead by great violence. We are never really told what happened to this poor canine. This begins the descent towards an incredibly dark conclusion and leaves the audience with many questions about the nature of the film.
 I have purposely left my description as vague as possible because this movie assaults a viewer in a very dark manner. The “IT” is not really anything physical. Audiences were expecting monsters or zombies. What they got was complete and unbridled terror. The “IT” is a metaphor for fear. The fact that it comes at night is both literal and symbolic. When do our fears manifest themselves in the strongest manner? They come when we are alone and vulnerable. This film pushes paranoia and fear to the razor edge of sanity. The film’s conclusion breaks taboos and leaves the audience feeling hopeless and full of sorrow. The vanity of life and the fleeting nature of humanity are showcased. This film speaks more about the tribalistic nature of human beings than anything I have seen in many years. It is completely brilliant. The controversy came when audiences did not get what they wanted, but instead they were assaulted with a very grim story that uses a sense of vagueness to create the uneasy feelings that many do not enjoy.
This movie is pure dread. Brian McOmber’s soundtrack only adds to this sense of hopelessness and grief. The movie is not a film that anyone will find happy. It does not give the audience that. Instead it focuses on the terror we are capable of. It speaks about the fear that can control us. It shows us how good people can become monsters. The “IT” is indeed a monster in the darkness. It is a great mirror that serves to make us all uncomfortable when we are forced to examine ourselves. Sadly, most audiences seem to have missed the point of this outstanding film. Even the movie poster conveys the sense of the unknown and the terror that lies just beyond the light. It Comes At Night is an overlooked gem. It is a masterpiece. It is worth your time if you are up to confronting your own humanity and the existential questions that come with self-examination.

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