I can admit that I wasn’t prepared for this movie. When I sat down in the dim theatre, I didn’t know much about what to expect other than my friend saying “I think you’ll like it… maybe.” I was less than sold by that endorsement. But how could I know then what I know now?.
If you’re looking for a fast-moving plot, explosions, and neat resolution then It Comes At Night is not the movie for you. If, however, you’re looking for a slow boil that leaves you wondering who you are under the worst of circumstances, what the people you love are capable of, and what you would do for your family, then this is the movie you’ve been waiting for.
It Comes at Night is the story of Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). It is hauntingly set at the family’s home which seems to be located in a semi-isolated part of the woods. There is an unnamed medical crisis going on the world; it looks a lot like Bubonic plague if you ask me my completely unprofessional and unreliable medical opinion (formed primarily through WebMD and paranoia), but it is never named in the film. This family of three is on their own: the house is boarded up and they’ve sealed all entrances and exits save one. Based on this alone, you know things aren’t good.
What this film does that I really enjoyed was establish the state of the world without heavy-handed exposition. Because of that, there are some things I don’t know like how long has the plague-like illness been active but I don’t need to know that to understand the characters or the truth of the film. The world as Paul, Sarah, and Travis know it is the world. It arrives in the movie fully formed. The writer and director have placed a lot of confidence in the audience to get on board this moving train.
The predictable, although dangerous, world of Paul, Sarah, and Travis is disrupted temporarily by the arrival of new people. Antics ensue (no spoilers). What happens is so much less important than how it happens.
Let me back up. This film is beautifully curated and heavy with symbols. The most notable of which is the red door which we see mostly from the inside. Since the movie deals with the threat of a hostile world—-both illness and humans—-this becomes particularly weighty. The film wrestles with the notion of family and duty. If it starts with the brutal reality that we cannot save everyone we love, so what then? What can be saved? What is worth saving?
Because the cast is small, we get to see what amounts to a character study of Travis, the son, and his father, Paul. These are fascinatingly different people who are responding to the world-at-crisis in drastically different ways. While we get insight into Travis’s interior world, Paul is more of a mystery. As the story unfolds, his uncharted nature heightens the tension and ups the stakes. What will each of them do? What would you do? More importantly, what would I do if I found myself in this movie’s universe?
Overall this movie is worth seeing. Even if I hated the movie—which I didn’t!—the last scene would have converted me into a fan. It’s expertly done and left me amazed by move its minimalism and its perfection. I want to fan out over it—its detail, the way it made me feel, how me and my friend both just looked at each other as if on cue—but I want you to experience for yourself (and then maybe @ me because I feel like I’m gonna explode if I can’t talk about it soon).