It Comes At Night
Early audiences and critics have failed Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore feature It Comes At Night. They’ve not a damn clue what they’ve watched. They’ve missed the “point”. You’ll see critics ghost around superlatives dropping genre fodder terms like “family psychodrama” or “paranoia” when they pretend to praise it, and a claim of emptiness, signalling the zilch these blunderers have for answers when they deem to criticize.
Who can you trust? I’ll tell you. “Teenage angst” will be at the center of their theme. Because the "It" that "Comes At Night" ( quite similar in resonance to the “It” that “Follows”) is not an esoteric ephemeral, it is quite clearly the 17-year-old Travis’s (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) hormonal urges, thoughts, and emotions, on reactive, post-apocalyptic, hyperdrive. How do I know? Because the film shows you, night after night, sometimes literally, what comes. At night Travis lurks and listens on the house patrons below his floor, he reacts to their stories, laughs, and fantasizes. Thoughts and emotions surface that don’t during the day. They’re things he dares not reveal to his survivalist Mom & Pop Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and Paul (Joel Edgerton) who’d have them immediately suppressed. His parents lay in bed and eat their dinner in silence. Travis ought to do the same, his urges make him susceptible to the film’s vague, dystopic virus.
When a younger couple moves into the home, they titillate Travis in all the ways he’s worked to repress. In bed, this couple jokes, cuddles, and has sex. When Travis fantasizes about having sex with the wife of this new couple, Kim, the fantasy’s derailed by a grotesque reimagining. He dreams of an infected Kim spewing blood out of her mouth into his. Travis’s natural urges aren’t just replete with the usual hormonal anxieties, then, for him, they’re also associated with death. Stack that atop the grief of his recently infected and executed Grandfather, which he only ever internalized, a window-boarded home, and a strict routine enforced by his Alpha-Male father, and you’ve primed repression to inevitably explode.
SPOILERS (Within Brackets):
How does Travis breathe in this breathless encasement? He sleep walks. It’s a desperate, dormant, maneuver by his body to find some release. How am I certain? The film uses a technique to reveal it’s so. In what is initially thought to be dream sequences of Travis wandering out of the house and into the woods at night, it crops into an aspect ratio narrower than it’s already widescreen 2.35 frame. At first, it’s a tease used to separate "dream" from reality. But then it returns, once more, in the film’s final, inarguably real sequence, to pull the curtain. They were happening all along.
The younger family is then executed by the protective Paul out of paranoia that their son caught the disease. It’s a paranoia the film decidedly doesn’t resolve. It hides the son’s face for this segment so that we can’t confirm whether or not he truly was.
Ultimately, that information hardly factors, because Travis is definitely infected and has already spread it to his parents -- So they all die. He acquired the disease from his dog while sleepwalking at night. The only ambiguous element is the son's health, and whether or not Travis genuinely believed he was sick. All this, I explicate, because the logistics aren’t immediately clear…
The film ends on the final, soundless dinner of Sarah and Paul. As they’ve practiced, they sit on opposite ends of the table and stare off into the distance pitifully incapable of discussing the recent tragedy. An earlier bedroom scene reveals all you need to understand their relationship. Sarah reads a book. Paul is silent. Paul folds her book close and sets it aside -- Sarah doesn’t protest, she knows it’s time to sleep.
So, It Comes At Night has these ulterior motives… We get it, shutting up inwards leads to a fearful human nature scarier than any beastie special effects could’ve conjured. It’s got the second layer critics often use as leverage against the backlash of “mainstream” audiences. And it’s definitely got the restrained, austere, pacing of a film that earns the accolades. But… Is it exceptional? It hits the high art horror prerequisites with the finesse of acing a test that accepts a double-sided cheat sheet.
The aesthetics don’t encapsulate the isolation or the wrapped up conservative ache of these characters. Call it restrained or what have you, these traditional compositions, with their occasional break into a roaming Steadicam, bored me. More importantly, they’re a miscalculation. A film that talks Aesopically through pictures, might have pictures that evoke more than a tone of their underlying meaning.
But, It Comes At Night settles on an oppressive, high-contrast, lighting schematic and an occasional hallway track. There’re ways to convey repression and constraint with a constructed manner of intention (see Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled), but Shults prefers or is only capable of, standard and unassuming. That indie shtick is at odds with an oddball script that seems to say more than anything: In art-house dystopia, buckled up teenage angst outweighs the horror of a fatal plague!
I’m being hard on Shults. It Comes At Night nearly says something about human behavior in the throes of internalized fear. Instances are great, particularly Paul’s (surprisingly, he’s the one character given some range). But the technique can’t mount the appetite and we leave half empty. Shults is a growing director. You feel the growing pains. This is something almost great… Almost good... I was apathetic to Krisha, and here still, at step 2, I’ve not been bought. I’ll line up for three and four, though, & expect, at some point, I’ll convert.
Note: It Comes At Night has been criminally mismarketed, expect the mainstream backlash to be loud.
|| It Comes At Night ||
I’m being hard on Shults. It Comes At Night nearly says something about human behavior in the throes of internalized fear. Instances are great, particularly Paul’s (surprisingly, he’s the one character given some range). But the technique can’t mount the appetite and we leave half empty. Shults is a growing director. You feel the growing pains. This is something almost great… Almost good... I was apathetic to Krisha, and here, at step 2, I’ve not been bought. I’ll line up for three and four, though, & expect, at some point, I’ll convert.