Seeking a Horror Film for the End of the World: It Comes At Night
The apocalypse is arriving a bit quicker than I anticipated, which has me worrying about whether or not I've seen enough horror films. I'll be damned if I can't give a satisfactory answer to Saint Peter when he asks what my favorite scary flick of all time is. So, every day for the foreseeable (And limited) future, I will be watching and distilling a horror movie to its most important qualities: Spookiness, Aesthetic, Theme, and Sound Design.
Today's film is:
Title: It Comes At Night
Writer & Director: Trey Edward Shults
Production Designer: Karen Murphy
Supervising Sound Editor: Damian Volpe
Sound Design: 7/10
Logline: A deadly disease has spread across the world (Seems right), breaking down the systems and structures of regular life (This is what happens when people don't social distance). A family of three is now forced to confront the scariest thing of all: communication.
Spookiness: It Comes At Night tends to lollygag through much of its plot. Choosing to use suspense and the unknown as its major harbinger of scares. Unfortunately, the tone doesn't ever berate the audience so much as subtly discomfort. Where the film succeeds at theme and Aesthetic, it lacks in terror.
Aesthetic: The red door is hauntingly beautiful. The design of the house and world is where It Comes At Night really shines. Cinematographer, Drew Daniels, captures the aesthetically pleasing qualities of the end times particularly well. Including the tight 2.40:1 aspect ratio that creates a feeling of claustrophobia that is disorienting. All in all, the movie is really fun to look at.
Thematic Response: It Comes At Night overcompensates for its lack of scares by creating a feeling of dense thematic relevance.
Rotten Tomatoes' ratings are enlightening on this matter:
Critics Score: 87%
Audience Score: 44%.
This divide makes sense, as the film struggles to find a balance between being enjoyably spooky (What I think most audience's want) and thought provoking (What I think most critics think they should want).
Here's the Critic Consensus blurb on Rotten Tomatoes:
"It Comes At Night makes lethally effective use of its bare-bones trappings while proving once again that what's left unseen can be just as horrifying as anything on the screen."
This summation concisely outlines one of my major criticisms of the movie: the world the characters inhabit is too opaque. The audience is left by the end unsure of major plot mechanics like, are there actual monsters in the woods; how did the pandemic start; what are the rules of the disease; and so much more.
Some may argue that the primary themes of It Comes At Night are paranoia and fears of the unknown, to which, I would agree. But I would also posit that those themes are not explored in an engaging enough way to justify a 90 minute runtime.
TLDR Themes: It Comes At Night is thematically potent, but struggles to deliver on scares.
Sound Design: Doesn't transcend the art of filmmaking or audio engineering, but the sound design does a perfectly adequate job servicing the film as a whole. Every line is understood, every tense scene is dutifully paired with ominous ambience (The score isn't disrupting or overbearing!), and violence is acceptably gruesome.
Quick Note on the Ending: The pacing of It Comes At Night feels like every bit of the story is driving us to the ending as fast as possible. Which makes sense, because the ending is very impactful. But, the impact of the ending also highlights how much of the second act is rushed filler rather than meticulous storytelling. Which isn't fun.
Overall: A serviceable horror film that fits into the burgeoning genre of heightened horror - a la Get Out, A Quiet Place, and It Follows - but lacks the scares or emotional impact to stand out.
Final Decision: I think this movie could entertain me through the first four days of the apocalypse.