Tuesday, 11 July 2017

It Comes At Night

Going Postal

It Comes At Night
2017 USA Directed by Trey Edward Shults
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Very minor spoilers... if such a thing is possible with this kind of movie.

It Comes At Night was called by a critic last week... a ‘post-horror’ movie... and there was an immediate backlash on Twitter about this term, which I can understand totally, although I expect a fair number of people who were then going on to defend the genre of horror (and the genre certainly doesn’t need anyone to defend it as far as I’m concerned) had probably not even seen this movie themselves. Otherwise they’d know the truth of this film which is this...

It Comes At Night
is certainly not a ‘post-horror’ movie. However, neither is it in any way a horror movie... by any stretch of the imagination. The only ‘post’ going on here is that it’s a movie which is set after an unknown post-apocalyptic event has wiped out a large population of the planet. This is, if anything, a fairly straight forward survival drama with heavy doses of suspense thrown into various places in the movie. I am, however, loathe to write it off completely because it is an astonishingly well crafted work and it pretty much had me at the edge of my seat.

I remember back in the mid to late 1980s to early 1990s, one of the major criticisms of certain kinds of movies being released was that they were films made with a lot of style but no substance. Well, it pains me to say it, in some ways... but this movie has got to be one of the most ‘style over empty content’ movies I’ve seen in a very long time. However, like I said, it’s an extremely well put together piece of nothing and so... some people are probably really going to love this one.

Some of the reasons I think people have got it stuck in their minds to expect some kind of horror film from this movie are quite obvious and, like the content of the film itself, all on the surface.

The trailer doesn’t help things and the title of the movie, It Comes At Night, certainly doesn’t help matters when it comes to audience expectations either... especially since, as it turns out, the title seems to be totally irrelevant to the content of the actual film. At the end of the movie we have no idea what It is, nobody is actually waiting in anticipation of any It in the film and, whatever the title thinks It is... it certainly doesn’t seem to come at night. Pink Bunny Rabbits At Sunset or My Dinner With Jellyfish would be just as equally an appropriate titles to the picture, I would say... and no, there are no rabbits or jellyfish in this picture either. They must be hanging out somewhere with the not so mysterious It I would imagine.

The film’s director, while making a beautifully suspenseful movie, is also somewhat to blame for the setting up of audience expectations throughout the movie. He does use horror tropes like the ‘undead re-incarnation of a loved one’ when one of the characters does frequently have bad nightmares during the progression of the movie but, honestly, they are in no danger of turning this film into a horror movie in any way, shape or form. The opening sequence of the movie does, it’s true, have some similar content to the opening of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi (aka Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters... reviewed here) but the resemblance ends with a gunshot and there are certainly no zombies, for example, in this movie either.

However, the film does weave quite a spell, being about two families trying to share a dwelling and keep the outside world well and truly locked outside and it’s more about the tension and paranoia induced by the situation that these people find themselves in which makes for the suspense and unease. Plus, of course, the audience expectation that it’s going to turn into a horror movie at any moment... which, alas, it certainly doesn’t.

There’s also a dog thrown into the mix which... isn’t so good in terms of tipping the hat to the audience as to where the story, such as it is, is heading. I absolutely love dogs but, honestly, if you see one in a film in this kind of situation you know that the darn thing is either there to inadvertently rain down trouble on the main protagonists or is going to get itself killed (or sometimes an unsettling combination of the two). And, yes, sure enough... the four legged friend is what ultimately brings destruction to at least some of the characters in this movie, for sure.

It’s a brilliant ensemble piece, though, in terms of the acting. When you get this kind of minimal cast in this kind of claustrophobic situation you need people who can really get the job done in terms of body language and expression and you want people who aren’t, necessarily, reliant on the written dialogue of the scene. You need actors who can bring an honest edge to what’s not in the dialogue and the director certainly got himself a group of thespians who can give fantastic and quite harrowing performances here. Special mentions go to the always fascinating Joel Edgerton who plays Paul, the father figure of one of the two families who end up living together and, also, to the extraordinary Kelvin Harrison Jr, who gives an absolutely electrifying performance as Paul’s son Travis.

Another nice thing to add to the edginess of the acting here is the quite unsettling score by Brian McOmber. I don’t know this guy's work but it’s certainly effective here and provides a lot of the tension, I suspect, in various scenes. Luckily, the powers that be have decided to release a CD of the score so I’ll be putting that one on the ‘to get’ list at some point soon... it deserves a listen away from the visuals it was intended to accompany, methinks. Glad it’s wisely not just a stupid download release, this time, for sure.

It Comes At Night is...
really not a movie I’d want to see again and, to be honest, if I’d have known the kind of piece it was then I probably wouldn’t have bothered to go and see it in the first place. It is though, as I’ve said, extremely well put together and I think it’s probably worth seeing if you like tightly paced, suspenseful, small scale yarns... if you don’t mind the lack of substance in the picture. Personally, I found the 1962 movie, Panic In Year Zero!, directed by and starring Ray Milland (and reviewed by me here), to be a more interesting movie of roughly the same kind of story. This movie will have its fans though and it’s certainly loaded with ‘edge of your seat’ suspense, if you like that kind of thing. So maybe give it a try... but don’t expect too much, would be my advice.

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