The Dose: ‘It Comes At Night’ is overrated, unsatisfying fare

The Dose: ‘It Comes At Night’ is overrated, unsatisfying fare

The Dose: ‘It Comes At Night’ is overrated, unsatisfying fare
June 16
12:19 2017

Matt Harvey | Staff Writer

Many critical reviews of “It Comes at Night” offer positive descriptions such as: it is “a close-quarters psychological thriller,” it is “meticulously crafted and highly intelligent” or in the case of The Wall Street Journal, it’s “taut, smart, intense and genuinely scary.” While these accounts do offer solid reflective analysis, they fail to connote what can more accurately be described as a lit and thrown firecracker that sputters out and dies, following the same familiar emotional arc of excitement, tension and ultimate disappointment.

The movie follows two families, far from any remaining civilization, attempting to survive a non-descript apocalyptic plague. Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their adolescent son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) live in the woods in a barricaded house with only one door, painted red, leading to the outside world.

One night, a stranger attempts to break in through the red door until he is stopped by patriarch Paul, who detains and interrogates the intruder. The intruder is identified as Will (Christopher Abbott), and is ultimately deemed an acceptable addition to Paul’s family thanks to his food supply, which he offers to trade for water and shelter. With the families united, director Trey Edward Shults begins his examination of the psychological effects of isolation, desperation and suspicion in a survivalist setting.

The film begins with an exhilarating scene in which Paul and Travis zip a body inside a tarp, dump it into a grave, set it ablaze and watch the smoke pillar into the evening sky. This opening sets the tone for the movie superbly: a well-established, consistent dread and pulsing tension that echoes throughout. But unfortunately, the film never offers any satisfactory resolution.

Quickly after the opening, the movie devolves into confusing and rambling sequences that either lack narrative importance or contributes in so minor a way as to be superfluous. For example, in one scene, just as the second act draws curtain, Paul and Will are ambushed on the road by hunters of some kind, though it’s never fully established. After a few minutes of tense discussion between Paul and Will after the ambush, it cuts to Travis watching his father return with Will, his family and all their food and livestock towed in a trailer behind the truck.

One might make the argument that the hunter ambush was meant to convey the total savagery of this apocalyptic world, but by this point in the film, that fact has been established enough to deem this as redundant.

There are several tense scenes in which its suggested that Will has some sort of sinister ulterior motive behind his supposedly random discovery of Paul’s forest hideaway. Never resolved. Travis’s nightmares seem to suggest either a supernatural explanation for the movie’s happenstances or a psychological dimension to the worldwide plague. Never resolved. Masculine rivalry between the dueling patriarchs. Never resolved. Sexual tension between Travis and Will’s wife. Never resolved.

These examples are evidence of a movie ultimately leaving the viewer with more questions than it even asks, some of which are indeed important and interesting. The overall goal of the film being to examine what happens when otherwise warm and hospitable people are placed into life and death situations. But it misses the mark due to misdirection, incoherence and a maddening lack of payoff. Acknowledging the benefits of ambiguity does not enable one to ignore it whenever the film itself lacks clarity or precision.

Fans of last year’s “The Witch” will enjoy the same intensity, physical setting and tone, while they will miss the earlier film’s payoff and resolution that made it both a horror movie and an intellectual thriller. Marketed to the same type of audience, “It Comes at Night” fails to deliver for that crowd or any other, leaving one to wonder even what it is that comes at night, other than a minor sleep disorder.

Featured Image: Joel Edgerton stars in A24’s latest horror movie “It Comes At Night” as a patriarch in an apocalypse. A24.

About Author

Preston Mitchell

Preston Mitchell

Preston served as the Opinion Editor of the North Texas Daily from July 2016 to July 2017, and is a UNT graduate of integrative studies.

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1 Comment

  1. The VinGonz Plan
    The VinGonz Plan June 19, 01:15

    Matt Harvey you are obviously in need of hand holding when it comes to watching certain movies. Are you afraid of using your own imagination? Does EVERY question need to be resolved to tell a story? Are you that simple that if you don’t understand something, you automatically don’t like it? BTW – please don’t answer these questions: I don’t actually need to know your resolutions to get by.

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