Psssst….It’s not a horror film.
Well, not in the way most people thought it would be. To be fair, it does have one of the most misleading trailers in recent memory. “Well that’s not what I was looking forward to,” is never what you want your audience to think at any point of your film. It pulls your audience out of your world, and sometimes they have a hard time getting re-immersed. But let’s pretend like the trailer doesn’t exist and evaluate it as a movie (since, you know, that’s what it is). If consumed with no prior expectations or preconceptions, we can appreciate the film for what its meant to be: a thoughtful psychological thriller in a horror setting that doesn’t mind taking it’s time. Now that’s a refreshing concept in a landscape where formulaic and forgettable scares dominate the horror genre.
Okay so if it’s not about some evil in the woods that’s coming to kill the family, what isit about? And what is this “It” that supposedly is supposed to come at night? I’ll tell you right off the bat, if you saw the marketing for the movie, that gross looking old man with blood oozing from his mouth is wayyyyyy less important than you think he is. It’s the grandfather of this family, and he’s “sick” with this disease that’s incredibly infectious. Strong zombie movie vibes here even though that’s not really what’s happening either. Like I mentioned briefly earlier, the horror aspects of this film are mostly window dressing. A number of other settings or situations would enable a similar tale, but the filmmakers settled on this one. It’s not a bad choice for a movie that, when boiled down to its very core, is about fear. Not causing the audience to feel fear, though that is a byproduct here, but examining the emotion of fear and what it causes people to do.
One of the most common complaints I’ve heard about the film is that nothing really happens. Nothing ever “comes at night” and no monster or killer attacks the characters. Instead of those things, we get dream analysis, family drama, and paranoia. With all those things, writer and director Trey Edward Shults is phenomenal. Even though I felt like I had seen this story play out about a hundred times before, I still wanted to know what the characters did. I hung onto Joel Edgerton’s (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors right now) every word and action.
Admittedly, the build up is slow. Almost an hour is spent on the exposition that the trailer (they really should just delete the thing off of the internet) covers in about 30 seconds. My dad taught me to ask one question of every psychological thriller I see: Could it be done in a 30 minute episode of The Twilight Zone? With It Comes at Night, the answer is yes, and it makes me wonder how the first hour really enhanced the storyline. There’s little characterization and what amounts to maybe 10 minutes of plot is stretched pretty thin. I really can’t even remember why it took so long and I only saw the film 3 days ago.
Fortunately, the third act comes and changes everything. I actually almost cried because of all the emotion in the last 30 or so minutes. We really see what desperate situations can do to the human mind and as an audience member you can’t help but wonder how you would perform in a similar situation. The lines between right and wrong have rarely ever been so grey. I’m trying real hard to avoid any too detailed analysis because this movie deserves as open a mind as possible.
An interesting result of this film is the growing group of movies that use horror as a setting rather than a genre. Although all very different movies (each amazing in their own right), Cabin in the Woods, Housebound, and Get Out all fit that description. These aren’t really genre-bending films, but they’re all often called “horror” while producing very few scares at all. It could be argued that that’s what horror is really about, but something about other movies like the stellar It Follows seems to be more befitting of the classic horror genre than these films are. Just thinking out loud.
The Verdict: Don’t watch the trailer!! Don’t do it! If you did already, forget about it and pretend that’s a different movie. Honestly if the movie was anything like the trailer it probably wouldn’t be as good. Instead, get ready for a very emotional and intellectual film that should make you feel and think more than you’re expecting to. It’ll happen if you let it I promise. If you can do all of that, then I think you’ll agree with my final decision here: