Paranoia and miscommunication.
It Comes at Night is a unique horror film in that much of the terror is implied rather than shown. We are thrust into a post-apocalyptic world where a virus of some sort has apparently ravaged most of society. The virus or plague seems to be incredibly infectious and almost certainly fatal.
Instead of seeing society break down, or hordes of the undead, or any of the other tropes we get in these movies we get a family story. Paul (Joel Edgerton) along with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) are surviving in their large and defensible home. They encounter a stranger named Will (Christopher Abbott) who is searching for water for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son. After an interrogation, Paul agrees to help Will and allow his family to stay with him. Soon after both families are trapped under one roof feeling of paranoia, mistrust, loneliness, and terror take over.
The film looks great. The dark setting and claustrophobic interiors help create an overall sense of dread that never really vanishes. Even when the families appear safe there is always the constant threat of this unseen virus. We know that the story is going to careen towards a violent episode, how this will manifest is not clear and that is part of the fun of the overall plot.
Edgerton does fantastic as an overbearing yet also incredibly understandable patriarch. He is overly cautious, paranoid, but still cares deeply about his family. He is really the driving vehicle of this film and for me it proves that Edgerton is worth watching. There isn’t a dud performance in the film. All the characters are given excellent moments. A simple scene discussing food between Harrison and Keough gives us more insight into their characters than many films are able to do.
There are a few problems with the film, though. First of which might not really be a problem, but the movie is short. We are a given a snapshot of this new broken world. I would have liked to see more, but perhaps keeping so much shrouded in mystery was smart. Not knowing everything does add a lot to the overall feel of the story.
A larger problem is that about halfway through the film loses momentum. The pacing gets weird and we are all just kind of waiting for the confrontation to happen. Granted, when it does, it is spectacular. However, this loss of footing in the narrative makes a decent chunk of the film a little boring. The film attempts to transition from external threat to internal madness and it does not do so smoothly or quickly. This seems to be an exacerbating problem for viewers who seemed to have demanded something more from the film. Perhaps it was mis-marketed (I can’t remember), but the film does overall what it is trying to—even if clumsily.
There is a bit of controversy around the title—what comes at night? Is there a spooky monster? No. What comes in the dead of night in this film is feelings of desire, lust, loneliness, fear, and mistrust. These feelings brew throughout the entire film so that it makes more sense when the two families finally do clash. It is weird, on the one hand I can appreciate the frustration some people have with the pacing, but on the other people are just wanting to complain.
Overall, I think this is an interesting movie that offers a very familial look at a catastrophe and how human relations break down. It is flawed, but I liked it despite the flaws. Fans of the rising arthouse horror genre will find a lot to like here. 7.5/10