This was a film I heard a lot about going into this halloween season. When I asked my Instagram followers about it there was definitely a mixed response. A close friend said he loved it and that it as one of the best psychological horror films he has seen. Plenty of other people said the film was nothing but a waste of time. Since I normally agree with my friend, I still had to check this film out, while also trying to erase any biases or preconceptions from my mind.
It Comes at Night follows a family living in a post-apocalypic world where an unnamed infection has infected most of the population. Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Caremen Ejogo) and son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live a secluded life in the woods that is soon interrupted by the presence of another family.
Firstly, I have to say that the film barely falls under the horror category in my opinion. Even if I consider a wide range of films, from Inside, Saw to Train To Busan and The Babadook, this film barely qualifies. There are some creepy scenes and some creepy imagery, but overall, It Comes at Night can fit squarely as a post-apocalyptic survival film, similar to The Road. Like The Road, there are disturbing scenes, but I don’t think that is enough to call it a psychological horror film.
I think this classification might be a part of the reason for all the hate for the film. The poster, the marketing, the title all hint at something coming at night. For those thinking of it as a horror film, and ignoring the “psychological” part, they probably imagined some sort of physical threat. Instead this film hints that the “IT” is fear and paranoia.
The actors are all great in their roles, especially Edgerton and Harrison Jr., who is the main character in many ways. The film focuses on his perspective for long stretches, revealing the nightmarish images that haunt him in this desolate world. It is these stretches of the film that fit most closely as psychological horror, especially Travis’s visions of his deceased grandfather, who fell victim to the illness.
I have always loved post-apocalyptic stories that focus on how humans react in dangerous situations, revealing how desperate and cruel we can be when we feel threatened. This is a big part of why I love(d) The Walking Dead. While the zombies in that show are an omnipresent threat, a lot of the conflict in the comic and the tv show comes from other humans in a society where people are more tribal than ever, killing each other for food and other resources.
It Comes at Night captures a similar dynamic, where Paul wishes to help another family out but must also remember that his family has to come first. The focus on this conflict within the home is probably what led some people to say “nothing happens” in this film. I have to disagree with that. The director succeeds in building tension throughout, and my biggest complaint is the ending.
The main conflict is revealed but there is another development that I, and plenty of other people are trying to pick apart. It is one that leaves you asking questions, but debate about theories falls somewhat flat since the foundation of information we get isn’t quite there. We get hints of some external threat in one of Travis’s visions. Could he be sleepwalking? Could something else truly be out in the woods? However, there isn’t truly enough info. It is not like other ambiguous endings that leave us interpreting a character’s motive for something, or wondering what actions a character will take after the credits roll. It Comes at Night leaves us with a simple question of what happened? The great build up falls somewhat flat at the end, bursting like a balloon and leaving nothing behind.