REVIEW: It Comes at Night (2017)

Richard recommends this horror movie starring Joel Edgerton, but warns that the trailers might have sold you the wrong movie. 

I have found in writing reviews that my primary method of communicating my overall opinion of a film is usually best done through some overly-extended, and at times, tortured, simile. It Comes at Night, however, has me somewhat stumped. Not because it has nothing to review or lacks elements that would make for an appropriate comparative point. Rather, because I find that I have two films to review where I should only have one. Now, these two films are the same, but one is burdened by extenuating circumstances and context, and one is not.

If I were to sit you down at this moment and show you the poster and trailer for this film, you would be well within your rights to get a bit excited about what appears to be a very interesting-looking horror film. You might, however, leave this film somewhat disappointed and perhaps a bit cheated. That is not because it’s a bad movie, it’s actually a very good one. What it is not, however, is a horror flick. Thus emerges the film’s single major problem: the preexisting expectations of its audience. Anyone hoping for adrenaline-pumping jumps and intense scares, I am sorry to disappoint. You have ordered the Coke and been given the Diet. I don’t care what the ads say, it’s close but not quite the same. If you want something more thoughtful, lower-key and with a tension-filled slow burn, well, you are in for a doozie. 

Marketing issues aside, It Comes at Night has a boldness and confidence rarely scene in a director’s early work and has certainly put writer/director Trey Edward Shults and his cinematographer Drew Daniels on my radar. The narrative is simplistic and founded in well-covered territory, but what sets the film apart is its consistently elevated sense of emotion and implication. Whatever we may be lacking in the aforementioned scares, we find in gripping tension. This film is building to less of a traditional climax and more of a personal confrontation, and if you let yourself be dragged under the heavy fog of its atmosphere, the finale is harrowing. Much of this immersion lies at the feet its very small cast, primarily the co-leads Joel Edgerton and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. Edgerton shines here, giving us a determined and emotionally distant everyman rather than any form of machismo or heroism. Harrison gives a performance which is in definite contrast; highly emotional and evocative. This is very much their movie and it is their relationship onscreen which creates the clearest sense of the realism the film is attempting to ground itself in.

Now, it’s probably clear that this review is following an overall sense of vagueness, because the film functions as a new experience. Narrative and wit here play second fiddle to the character’s experiences and emotional developments. I will probably wait many years before seeing this again, unless I want to study it in depth due to how many truly excellent shots there are and how DOP Daniels has a rare gift for painting with darkness. This is a film I would suggest to film fans and lovers of dark drama alike. And here, at last, I may have found my simile for the review. I was led into the theater expecting a rock song, full of energy and moxy. What I heard much to my surprise was something of an older school. Stripped away was the frill and the flash to reveal a classic blues song. A slow, shuddering riff on an old buzzing six-string, and a gravelly voice that had smoked a thousand cigarettes singing a song of lost love and long roads. It may not be for everyone, but if you’ve got a hankering for a deep slow burn into that dark place within you, well, I’d say this was the film for you.

Richard Herring

Half-American, half-Norwegian. All Engineer, amateur filmmaker, former Scuba Diver, qualified Forklift Operator, continual Stand Up Comedian, and Certified Cinephile.

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