It Comes at Night Review (Film, 2017) #31DaysofHorror
For his second feature length film, writer/director/editor Trey Edward Shults shifts genres but sticks with the same subject matter as his breakout critical hit Krisha. It Comes at Night sees different people with different perspectives on a past trauma forced to come together in the same house and coexist despite their differences. Where the family in Krisha gets to leave after the party, the families in It Comes at Night have nowhere else to go.
It Comes at Night is a meticulously planned ensemble drama set in a horrifying post-apocalyptic world. A mysterious illness has wiped out most of humanity. Paul, Sarah, and Travis are the surviving members of a family living by very strict rules to keep themselves safe. Every door and window stays boarded up at night. The red door in the back must be locked at night. No one may leave the house at night. Breaking these and any other rules puts you at risk of an illness that turns you from compassionate human to drooling, screaming monster in under 24 hours. Sarah and Travis ask Paul to show mercy for once and give another family a chance to join them for greater safety in greater numbers.
Horror films live by the concept and die by the concept. Shults hits on a really great blend of characters and circumstances for It Comes at Night. The combination of personalities, perspectives, and goals for the future creates a fascinating and evolving sense of conflict that grants a sense of immediacy to what is essentially a slow burn zombie film. The morality of right and wrong is constantly put at odds with survival and empathy. This is a film concerned with the minutia of what it means to survive rather than the typical horror focus of survival at all costs.
Every major problem with It Comes at Night boils down to that distinction. The characters, their fights, their day to day lives, and the shocking precision of their daily routines are fascinating. The world and characters are rich with details that make them feel uniquely real and engaging. The film just loses the rhythm of horror too often to really hold itself together as a solid horror film.
The horror sequences are really well done. So are the ensemble drama sequences. They just don’t play well with each other. The tonal shift between the two is a little too disparate to feel like a cohesive final product. What’s presented is good and logical as a character-driven drama; that drama gets overshadowed by the wonderful scare sequences that bookend the film and pop up a few times in between. It’s just a bit too uneven in its exploration of genre to feel whole.
The technical quality of the film is top notch. Shults teams up again with two key members of the creative team that helped give Krisha such a beautiful and distinct style. Composer Brian McOmber crafts a score driven by a variety of percussion, once again focusing on the rhythm of thought and emotion in familial conflicts. Cinematographer Drew Daniels keeps a safe distance from the interpersonal conflicts and day to day life, but throws us right in the middle of the action whenever there is a real threat to survival. This trio has proven themselves quite adept at collaborating on stories about how surviving trauma impacts how people interact in day to day life. It’s a unique specialty that lends itself to a far wider variety of film styles than you might initially think.
It Comes at Night is a fascinating drama about survival, trust, and the end of the world. At the same time, it’s a tonally inconsistent horror film that will leave you hoping for more consistent scares. Shults’ screenplay comes in hot with an extended horror sequence to draw you in, but steps back a bit too long afterwards to clarify all the exposition skipped over at the start. The two modes of the film—family drama and zombie apocalypse—are excellent. They just don’t necessarily feel balanced in the moment.
It Comes at Night is available to stream with Amazon Prime. It’s also available to rent or purchase on all major digital platforms.
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