Movie Review - It Comes At Night

Trey Edward Shults wrote and directed this horror film that presents a science-fiction idea that has been often used. He presents a contagious disease that when caught can kill you in one day or so, so one has to do everything possible not to catch the disease. Often times, this sci-fi idea is presented as a zombie apocalypse but not here. Shults does start in media res where we begin with a family in the wake of the outbreak and we watch as they isolate themselves in a home nestled deep in a forest and do what they can to protect themselves from the disease.

The majority of the film takes place in the house and never ventures much further beyond it. There are no flashbacks. There is no exposition to explain how the characters got to where they are. It's unclear where they are geographically. It's somewhere in the United States and in the north perhaps, but it's not even clear if the house belongs to the family living it. It's not clear how long this outbreak has been occurring.

Shults would rather traffic in minimalism and no exposition. There's barely any dialogue that reveals any back-story. He realizes quite correctly that it's easier to build paranoia and fear based on ignorance or the denial of information. Unfortunately, it's also easier to build skepticism about the film that way, and that was ultimately my reaction. I was skeptical of everything that was happening until I rejected it all by the end.

Because Shults is so minimal, I don't even get why I should care about this family. There is a brief montage where we see the family enjoying themselves, laughing and whatnot, but Shults doesn't allow us to hear any of their conversations, so we're kept at bay about who these people are. The most we get is that the father is named Paul and he used to be a history teacher. Now, he's handy with a rifle but not much more is revealed about him. His wife is Sarah and nothing is revealed about her. Unless I missed it, we don't know what she did, what she was interested in, if she has any other family members like siblings or cousins or anything.

Joel Edgerton stars as Paul. He seems to be playing a combination of his characters in Loving (2016) and Midnight Special (2016). In Loving, he played a mostly quiet man in an interracial relationship and in Midnight Special, he played a man who is trying to protect a family from some great threat. All those things are just archetypes and this movie suffers from the same thing as those two. Neither sees fit to go beyond those archetypes at least when it comes to Edgerton's character.

This movie doesn't see fit to tell the audience anything. We're dropped in the middle of relationships and given little to no context to fill out the world. Loving is about a true story, so that film is easier to fill, but these sci-fi films don't get that benefit, so we're left with nothing.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Shots Fired) co-stars as Travis, the son in this family whom we learn likes to draw but doesn't like cupcakes or bread pudding. We also learn he's 17 and he's the only child in this family, but that's it. We get no sense of how long he's been living in this situation. He's comparable to the child character of Carl in the TV series The Walking Dead, but Carl in Season 1 is different from Carl in the last season. We have no clue which Carl is Travis, so I have no clue how I should feel about Travis and ultimately I didn't.

Rated R for violence, disturbing images and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins.


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