For anyone wanting to check out horror film that is different from the types that have dominated the genre for the past few years that are cheaply made products that rely on jump scares and tropes, there is good news for you. A movie came out this weekend that delivers as an intense and psychological horror film that can provide a very satisfying experience.
And no, I am not talking about The Mummy. Skip that trash and instead go check out a real horror film, It Comes at Night.
It Comes at Night takes place at an ambiguous time, at an ambiguous location, and focuses around an infectious threat of ambiguous origins and consequences. And all of those unknowns are perfectly acceptable. The very first thing we see in the film is an elderly man who is clearly not well. He is sitting in a room with plastic all over the walls and has lesions all over his body. A man and woman wearing gas masks speak to him before placing him into a wheel barrow and taking him out into the woods. Once there, the woman has been replaced with a young man who observes as the man kills the old man before tossing his body into a makeshift grave and lighting it on fire.
The effects of the mysterious illness which threatens the people of this world.
This is the world which the characters within this film live in; there is some sort of pathogen that infects people, and once infected, that person must be killed in order to save the others around them. What the pathogen does other than create the skin lesions is unknowns, nor is it known how that pathogen is contracted or spread to others. Is this yet another zombie flick where the disease will turn people into flesh eating monsters? Is it just a good-old-fashioned plague that will kill people and is highly infectious? The answers to those questions are never provided, for they aren’t important. All that matters is that we know that the three main characters are surrounded by the potential for death, and that the utmost care must be taken in order to avoid it. First and foremost, is to keep the only doors into the house closed and locked.
The characters in the opening scene are a family of three played by Joel Edgerton (Paul), Carmen Ejogo (Sarah), and Kevin Harrison Jr. (Travis) and Mikey who plays the pivotal role as their grandfather’s dog, Stanley. A second family is introduced into the equation played by Christopher Abbot (Will), Riley Keough (Kim) and Griffin Robert Faulkner (Andrew).
The film is very methodical; its takes its time setting up the characters as well as this world that they live in. A second family is introduced into the equation which sets the stage for the conflict in the film as well as the slowest part of the film. The middle of the film which shows some of the day to day lives of these two families is the slowest aspect of the film, and the most unfortunate part is that it introduces tensions that don’t really go anywhere.
The two main tensions arise between the older son of the first family and the young wife of the second, and between the two fathers of each. The older son is clearly attracted to the young wife, and she knows that he is which creates some awkward situations between the two. And the father of the first family begins to distrust the other after some miscommunication following their first real conversation. These tensions are a nice setup for what could be escalation of conflicts between the two families, but they are never given their proper resolution before a greater threat is introduced. This makes the slowest part of the film go by without any real payoff from the possible conflicts that it worked to set up.
The two families gathered around the dinner table.
Fortunately, the ending conflict of the film is strong enough to overcome this weakness. The illness which both families had been so diligent to stave off potentially finds its way inside the house. This causes the two families to turn on the other as they try to ensure their own survival. As slow as the middle section is, this final third of the film is where the film truly excels.
After a brief quarantine, the two families draw guns on each other as each tries to gain control of the situation. With the young child of the second family potentially being infected, they are trying to leave with some supplies while the first one is trying to force them out immediately without giving up too much of their supplies. This conflict is very tense with the position of power being swapped between the two parties multiple times before the climax of the situation where Sarah first shoots Will for attacking Paul. Shortly thereafter, Paul turns on Andrew and Kim to kill them in a futile attempt to stop the spread of the mysterious sickness.
Horror is a genre that is able to put a microscope on people and to examine how they change under great fear. That is the purpose of this film; there is not boogeyman to be scared of, there is not supernatural being or threat to fear, and there is nothing otherworldly to point to as a threat. Instead, the threat to each of the families is the other family when the fear of a sickness drives them beyond the point of reason or compromise. Dr. Frankenstein’s reanimated experiment was not the real monster of that film or story, that title belongs to the villagers who hunted him down in their fear of him. That is the same case in this film as the people fight involved fight and kill each other rather than trying to work together.
That is the true meaning of the film, and it is so much so that the confrontation can be seen coming a mile away. That predictability is not a detraction from the film as it never hides its intention to pit these people against each other. The greatest thing that can be said about this film is that is serves as a reminder of what the horror genre is capable of. It is more than just cheap movies with jump scares. This is a film that makes the audience think, and at times even question what is real and what is not within the film. The horror genre can be used like sci-fi to make people question aspects of themselves, and though this film has some slow parts, and some underutilized elements, it is still able to deliver an intense film that can get people excited about horror movies again.