It Comes At Night is a brilliantly intelligent, atmospheric delight, however hard-core horror fans seeking gore, action and fast-zombies will likely be sorely disappointed with this slow-burning, psychological horror flick.
The film opens with a cabin in the woods (thankfully the only horror cliche you’ll find in the whole run-time), and the rather unceremonious mercy-killing of Grandfather ‘Bud’ – an elderly gentleman visibly inflicted with what is only named in the film as a ‘sickness’. Straight off the bat the concept of the film as a comfortably familiar one – a mysterious, plague-like sickness has inflicted the population and we follow the trials and tribulations of a small band of survivors. However, It Comes At Night is as far from comfortable or familiar.
From the very beginning, with the harsh dispatching and disposing of poor Grandpa, the audience is made aware that this is a film that will – if nothing else – make you feel uncomfortable. The no-nonsense marketing of the movie prior to it’s release (you’ll probably have spotted the arresting poster with nothing on it but a red door and the title) should have been an immediate clue to the type of horror film this aspires to be. Far from the large-scale productions of ‘similar’ (I use this word loosely) recent films of the genre – think Contagion or even World War Z – It Comes At Night is a quiet horror movie that aims to unsettle and unnerve rather than terrify its audience.
“Shults cleverly explores what would happen if we stripped back the societal bonds that force us together and were left with nothing but the starkness of instinctual survival.”
Director Trey Edward Shults crafts as much a character-study as a traditional horror movie, drawing together two desperate families in a desolate woodland outpost hiding from an unknown outside threat, and depicting the inevitable breakdown in order. Much of the fear for the audience comes as much from what is not seen than what is actually shown on screen – and I’m sure I’ll save many a movie-goer from wasting their money if I say now that if CGI monsters are what you’re hoping for, this is perhaps not the film for you. That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional tasteful jump-scare, but the true horror of It Comes At Night comes from the human threat, and the lengths we will go to to protect our own. Shults cleverly explores what would happen if we stripped back the societal bonds that force us together and were left with nothing but the starkness of instinctual survival.
The only real issues with the film stem from irritating ‘dream sequences’ that continuously interrupt an otherwise succinct narrative. These are those moments where a main character encounters some gruesome terrifying ghoul, only to wake up in a cold sweat and realising, to the audience’s exasperation, that the whole thing never even happened. One cannot escape the feeling that these abstract segments were merely filler, and an excuse to add jump-scares and gore in a plot that otherwise doesn’t call for it. Dream sequences such as these are rarely used effectively, yet persist to be a cliche in almost every recent horror movie; used for it’s easy ‘shock’ value and to add minutes to the run time. In the case of It Comes At Night, as with so many other horror movies that rely on this trope, these dreams simply intrude on the plot without adding anything to the overall story, and ultimately comes off as frustratingly contrived.
Regardless of a few minor faults, It Comes At Night remains a refreshing addition to the genre and as a whole offers an ‘epidemic’ movie that doesn’t feel like it is covering old ground. For this reason alone, it is certainly worth a watch – whether you are a horror fan or not.