“It Comes at Night” is directed by Trey Edward Shults and stars; Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr. The story is set in a world where a deadly virus has basically sent human civilization into the apocalypse. The plot specifically is centered around a small family – a man, wife and their son. That live by a strict set of rules to protect them from this disease. But when another young family arrives on their property in search of water, this fragile order they have set, the one that is keeping them alive, will be tested.
This movie just popped up on my radar. I saw the first trailer only a few weeks ago after a friend told me about it and after watching, I was excited for it. It looked like a very tense, foreboding, thriller and felt like it had elements of James Wan mixed with a hint of Shyamalan. Plus, with Joel Edgerton in the lead of a dystopian-esque story, the potential for an imaginative thriller with strong performances was high in my opinion.
After watching the film. Having the progression of the story resonate in my mind, I can definitely say this film was not great. But I can’t quite decide whether or not it was good. But I definitely do not think it was bad. Regardless, it has been a long time since a movie has had me this conflicted about my overall opinion of it. So for that aspect, there must be something to this film that I may just be missing. But was it the right something? Or enough of the something? Is what I still haven’t been able to lock in on. But as a guy who can ramble on about anything. This review will go on, with success. So, let’s dive into what this film did very well in my opinion. Easily the number one strength this movie had were the cast performances.
Joel Edgerton was excellent in the lead as Paul. He pulls off the feeling of a man desperate to save his family even if it makes them resent him at times. The character was strong willed, brave, and determined. But he was also vulnerable in certain aspects, and I think Edgerton captured that range of emotion extremely well.
Christopher Abbott was also fantastic in his performance and he delivers his dialogue with precision and when the story calls on his character for some emotion, Abbot delivers them with complete realism. Kelvin Harrison Jr. brought this film another solid performance as he conveys the many layers of his character very well. By using several mannerisms and subtle expressions that all were surprisingly effective in telling you much more than simple dialogue could. Carmen Ejogo and Riley Keough deliver some memorable scenes as well and in my opinion, and they certainly did the most with the screen-time and dialogue they had to work with.
Another element this film did very well with was building tension and suspense. This was a very foreboding story. You could always sense there was much more going on in the world around them outside of their boarded-up home. You never really know how that will show itself. Thus, every time the characters venture out into the wilderness surrounding the secluded home you can feel the isolation, and you are on edge as you do not know what to expect.
Also, when the younger family enters the scene you can feel the tension as the normal dynamic has been broken and the two families form a reluctant alliance. I thought there was a good flow between tranquility and uneasiness as the two families sort tip-toe around trying to live together. All of these character dynamics, and the overall concept of what limits would you go past to protect your family, are all explored in a compelling fashion that does build a strong amount of intrigue.
Something else that was very impressive about this movie was the direction and cinematography. Director Trey Edward Shults took a very intimate approach to shooting this film. Many of the shots are framed up close and with slow movements you feel like you are there with them, and not just sitting back and watching things play out. Something that naturally pulls the viewer into the setting of the story much more effectively, as you imagine what decisions you would make in certain scenarios.
Now you are probably thinking. That sounds like a lot of good things to say about a movie. How can you not know if you liked it? Well let’s get into the issues I had with this movie and maybe we can figure it out. One element this film was lacking in was character development. While there were some solid performances in this movie, the characters they were playing had little to no backdrop. So, other than being able to resonate with them through the performances, there was little connection with them. The characters were good, but no different than any other that would be in a post-apocalyptic movie.
Thus, you are left with some serviceable players to fill the story, but not personas you can get to know or invest in. There was no genuine connection built with them other than from a surface level which I think did hinder some of the impact this story-line wanted to capture. Which is why when I was speaking of the cast earlier, I routinely said ‘performances’ and not characters.
Another issue with this film to me was the story progression. Specifically, the large holes and gaps in the cohesion of it. This was a script that relied on situational tension and for a while it works. But it begins to tease other story-arcs that in the end were left unfulfilled which makes you question the reasoning for them even being brought up. The script also adds some dream sequences that at first were very interesting and did successfully generate some suspense.
But soon these scenes felt like your usual horror movie when the character wakes up in the night and wonders the house in the dark to inevitably run into a trademark jump scare. These scenes became repetitive and in my opinion, were not incorporated into the script very well at all in terms of what their meaning or message was that they were trying to convey. They only pulled me out of the film a bit as it felt like this story was trying to build something it had no intention on following through with.
Another major issue with this movie was the pacing. This one was only one-hour and thirty-seven minutes. Yet after the screening when we were all sharing our thoughts on the film, the common phrase was, ‘this movie felt extremely long’ and it did. The run-time easily feels three times as long as it actually was. I can appreciate a methodical pace, and I love a script that moves slowly as it builds its plot. But I don’t feel comfortable saying this film really did that. It starts out strong, very strong. Then hits a wall, and for a bulk of the run-time does mildly develop some honestly cut-and-paste character dynamics. But feels like it makes little progression at all as it seems to circle around itself as an overall story-arc. But overall this wasn’t a horrible movie, just a disappointing one given the potential I felt it had.
It does show effort, the visual appeal is subtle but effective, and it does build some strong tension. But to me, it felt like it was missing the first ten-minutes and the last fifteen, as it plays out like one long second-act. But there is an audience for this one. It will be a very divisive film with audiences, but there will certainly be some who could enjoy it. I love a film that doesn’t lay everything out there for you. One that can tell a solid story that will be thought-provoking and allow the viewer to surmise some of their own conclusions. But with “It Comes at Night” and the amount of information, not put on the table. Surmising your own conclusions could result in creating your own forty-percent of this film, that I felt was missing.