Whenever Hollywood starts promoting a film as one of the scariest films of the year, more times than not they are overcompensating for the fact that it really isn’t. And while dystopian apocalyptic end of the world flicks are always going to be popular, they’ve also started becoming cliché and require that a filmmaker do something original to stand out among the pack. That said, you really need to have some substance behind your film and that is where It Comes at Night falters.
Director Trey Edward Shults made his directorial debut in 2015 with Krisha, a very well-received but still little-known comedy drama. Here, he’s entering into the riskier world of horror and suspense with a screenplay he also wrote that deals with a man protecting his family from an outside threat. Joel Edgerton (Midnight Special) is Paul, who is living in a cabin in a forest with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo, Alien: Covenant) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr., The Birth of a Nation). In the opening sequence, they are burying Sarah’s father who is visibly ill with a contagious disease. What it is or how it started is never revealed, which isn’t necessarily a necessity, but would have helped flesh out the story a little.Paul and family are eventually faced with helping out a man named Will (Christopher Abbott), his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and young son Andrew. However, the happy unit soon succumb to paranoia and suspicion as the disease eventually finds its way into their secure home. But is the real enemy out in the forest or within their four walls?
The marketing campaign behind this movie is trying to make It Comes at Night something it is clearly not. Horror elements are far and few between in this movie with the emphasis being more so on paranoia and unseen events. We never learn what is happening in the outside world other than some type of disease. Character development is at a bare minimum with very little known about anyone before the undisclosed event and there are questions about the validity of what is revealed, especially concerning Will and his family.
Young Travis comes across as a creepy kid but we never really understand why he does some of the things he does. He spies on everyone in the house, has romantic fantasies about Kim and nightmares about his grandfather. In fact, some of the more horrific moments in the film don’t even really happen as they are in the bad dreams of Travis, which is an age-old plot device that wore thin decades ago and comes across here as nothing more than a cheap pop. The trailer has edited events to make them look much more horrific than they really are in the film.Most of the cast comes ready to do their best, especially Edgerton, who is very convincing as a father willing to stop at nothing to protect his family. There are clearly some hidden monsters within the group and people themselves. All of these issues could have been handled brilliantly with a smart script, but Shults gives us some of the worst possible dialogue that ends up being laughable at moments it shouldn’t. And while Shults definitely builds on the feeling of paranoia, the ultimate payoff is sorely lacking, leaving the viewer feeling depressed and unsatisfied.
Go into It Comes at Night knowing that it is not what the trailers would have you believe. I definitely saw some potential in this film but the finished product was disappointing and left me wanting a lot more than I was given.