Tuesday, June 27, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: It Comes At Night

It Comes At Night was written and directed by Trey Edward Shults. He previously wrote and directed the low budget indie film Krisha (?)

So what's the film about? Welp, despite the fact that it's being advertised as a horror film, It Come At Night is anything but. Contrary to its marketing, it's more of a bleak, hopeless, post apocalyptic family drama, along the lines of 2009's The Road, except not good. That's right, this is one of those, "The Real Monster Is MAN!" movies, in which we see characters placed in impossible situations, who'll do whatever unspeakable things it takes to survive.

That could have made for a compelling film, if the topic hadn't already been covered to death for the past seven years over on The Walking Dead. We get it already! Humans are assholes who are capable of horrific acts of violence and depravity. Next topic, please!

This is the perfect example of a "slow burn" film— one that moves along at a glacial rate, as it takes its sweet time telling its story. I'm not a huge fan of such movies, but I can tolerate a deliberate pace as long as it's leading toward an amazing ending. Unfortunately, It Comes At Night has no such payoff. In fact it doesn't end so much as it just stopsas if the director ran out of time, money, film or all three.

This is most definitely a character-driven film, as there's virtually no plot whatsoever. The closest it ever comes to a proper storyline is in the third act, when the characters argue over whether someone left a door open or not. Seriously!

My dislike for the film comes from the highly deceptive trailer, which promised a completely different movie than the one we get. The trailer strongly implies there's some kind of titular "It" hiding in the woods, which comes out at night to prey. In reality there's no such thing anywhere in the movie, which was frustrating and disappointing to say the least. 

I honestly wish I'd never seen the trailer and had gone into the film blind. I think I'd have liked the movie much more that way, and wouldn't want to track down every existing copy and burn them all as I do now. Do yourself a favor— if you plan on seeing this movie, DO NOT watch the trailer before you go!

The film clocks in at a brief one hour and thirty seven minutes, but seemed more like four hours.

So far critics seem to universally love It Comes At Night, praising its bare-bones plot, raw-nerve tone and moody cinematography. Audiences are split pretty much right down the middle, with half loving it and half wondering what the hell they just watched. 

Supposedly this film had a budget of $5 million dollars, which I refuse to believe. That money certainly isn't up there on the screen, as the entire movie is filmed in a small home in a wooded area, lit mostly with battery-powered lanterns. I'm confident I could shoot a similar-looking film in my own house.

Against all reason and logic, the film is a modest hit, grossing $13 million against its $5 million budget. Due to marketing and other hidden costs, these days most films need to gross twice their production budget just to break even. I doubt this rule of thumb applies to It Comes At Night though, as I can't imagine them spending $5 million to advertise this thing. So I'm gonna guess that that $7 to $8 million of its gross was pure profit.


The Plot:
As the film opens, a virulent plague (I guess?) has wiped out most of the country (maybe?). Paul (played by Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah, teenaged son Travis, father-in-law Bud and dog Stanley are holed up in a remote house in the woods, waiting out the disease. Sarah comforts Bud, who's contracted the plague and is covered with boils. She tells him it's OK to "let go."

Paul and Travis, wearing protective gloves and masks, take Bud deep into the woods in a wheelbarrow. Paul shoots Bud in the head to put him out of his misery, and burns his body in a shallow grave. This traumatic event causes Travis to start having horrific nightmares (most of which are shown in the incredibly misleading trailer).

A few days later, Paul hears someone in the house at night. He investigates and finds a man rooting around for food. He knocks him out, drags him outside and ties him to a tree, leaving him there overnight to see if he's suffering from the disease. The next day Paul interrogates the man, whose name is Will. He claims to have a wife and child, and they've been living in his brother's house (Plot Point!) some fifty miles away (!). Will says he was out searching for fresh water, not realizing Paul's house was occupied. He tells Paul he and his family have plenty of food, and offers to trade some for water.

Paul and Sarah discuss what to do with Will. Paul doesn't trust him, but Sarah says having more people around would make it easier to defend their home from others. Paul agrees to take Will back to his house to check out his story. Paul loads up his truck, and he and Will take off.

Everything goes fine until they're suddenly attacked by gun-toting woodsmen along the way. Paul crashes his truck into a tree, gets out and sees two men approaching. He shoots and kills one, while Will beats the other man to death. Paul suspects Will was in on the attack, but he swears he's never seen the men before. They push the truck back on the road and continue on their way.

Several days later Paul returns to his house with Will, his wife Kim and young son Andrew. Plus a goat and several chickens. Apparently Will convinced Paul they're not infected and pose no threat. Sarah and Travis welcome their new borders.

That night at dinner, Paul explains the rules of the house. He shows them the bright red door, saying it's the only way in or out of the house, and it's to remain locked and closed AT ALL TIMES (Another Plot Point!), and only Paul and Sarah have the key. They keep their weapons locked in a small armory, and always go out in groups of at least two. Lastly, and most importantly, they NEVER, EVER GO OUT AT NIGHT, unless it's an absolute emergency. Why this particular rule is in place is apparently none of our concern, as it's never addressed.

Days go by, as the two families get to know one another. After a while though, cracks begin to show in the happy facade. Will teaches Travis how to chop wood, which generates jealous looks in the stern and rigid Paul. Travis, being a horny teen, becomes attracted to Kim, going so far as to awkwardly flirt with her. His nightmares also continue.

One day while chopping firewood, Stanley begins barking at something in the woods. Paul tries to take Stanley inside, but he snaps at him and runs into the woods. Travis chases after him, but eventually loses sight of him. A furious Paul catches up with Travis, and yells at him for running off by himself. Will looks around briefly for Stanley, but doesn't see anything. Paul insists they return quickly, as Stanley knows the way home.

That night Paul and Will share a drink and get to know one another. Will mentions being an only child, which contradicts his earlier story that he was staying in his brother's home (told you it was a Plot Point!). Travis has another nightmare, and wanders through the house, unable to go back to sleep. He finds Andrew asleep on the floor in Bud's old room, tossing and turning. He wakes Andrew and takes him back to his parents' room.

Travis hears a noise downstairs, and thinks it may be Stanley returning. He goes down to investigate, and sees the red door's open. He runs back upstairs to wake his parents. Paul and Will go downstairs, and find a sick and bleeding Stanley lying on the floor. Fearing the dog is infected, Paul sends Travis upstairs. He then takes Stanley outside and shoots him.

There's then a family meeting, as Paul demands to know who let the dog out, er, I mean in. Travis says the door was ajar when he came downstairs, and suggests Andrew may have opened it while sleepwalking. Kim insists that Andrew doesn't do that, and says Travis must have opened it while half asleep and doesn't remember. Paul realizes they'll never get to the bottom of it, and suggests both families stay in their respective rooms for a couple of days. Mostly so they can all calm down, but also to make sure no one's infected.

The next morning, Travis eavesdrops on Will's family, as Andrew constantly cries and Kim says they need to leave. Travis tells his parents that Andrew's sick, and may have passed on the disease to him. Paul and Sarah don their protective gear and knock on the door of Will's room, demanding to see if Andrew's sick. Will tells them to get lost, but Paul insists. Will opens the door and points a gun at Paul, taking him captive.

Will says there's nothing wrong with them, but demands their fair share of supplies so they can leave. Paul agrees, and he and Will head downstairs. Sarah appears out of the shadows, surprising Will as Paul grabs his gun. Paul marches Will and his family outside. Will suddenly attacks Paul, hitting him over and over in the face with a rock, until Sarah shoots and kills him.

Kim grabs Andrew and runs into the woods. Despite Paul's savage beating, he's able to rise up and fire after Kim. He hits and kills Andrew, as Kim sobs uncontrollably. Having lost everything, she begs Paul to kill her. Paul grants her wish, shooting her in cold blood, while Travis looks on in disbelief. Travis runs back into the house, where he vomits blood into the sink.

Some time later, Sarah tells a visibly diseased Travis it's OK to "let go." Gosh, it's like poetry, ending the same way it started! Paul and Sarah, both infected, then sit at the dining room table, staring at one another. Roll end credits, as the audience groans and shuffles out of the theater.

• Whoever came up with the highly misleading marketing campaign for It Comes At Night is either a genius or an asshole
—  possibly both. I get the feeling they looked at the finished film, realized it didn't stand a chance at the box office, so they simply decided to promote it as a completely different movie. Kudos to their chutzpah, I guess.

Every piece of this film's advertising is a complete fabrication. Heck, even the title— "It Comes At Night" is a big fat lie. There's no "It," and nothing ever comes at any point during the film. Especially not at night. They no doubt decided that title sounded better than "Let's Argue About Who Left The Door Open While We Wait To Die."

Props to whoever came up with the film's poster as well. Design-wise it ain't much to look at, but the concept is amazing, as it demands the viewer's attention and draws the eye right into it. What's the dog looking at there in the inky blackness? Some kind of nocturnal monster? A shambling, animated corpse? Bigfoot? A bunny calmly nibbling on grass?

Apparently whatever he sees is none of the audience's business. In the film, Stanley the dog does run into the woods after something, but whatever he's chasing— and whatever injures him— is never addressed.

Too bad there're more scares in the poster than in the actual film.

The aforementioned trailer is just as deceptive and manipulative as the title and poster. It features quick flashes of disturbing images, in an effort to bamboozle the audience into thinking they're going to watch a standard zombie film.

Unfortunately NONE of these "scary" images appear in the "real" world of the film. Instead they're seen only during Travis' nightmares. I cannot emphasize this enough— anything that's remotely frightening in the trailer is "all just a dream."

• Paul's family has an unusual dynamic— he's white, while his wife Sarah and son Travis are black. This is never commented on or acknowledged in any way during the film, which I assume was supposed to be a progressive statement in itself. 

• Paul and his family are terrified of the mysterious plague, and rightly so. To keep from becoming infected, they wear gas masks and gloves whenever they go outside, and wash up with antibacterial soap when they come back in. 

Annnnnd then they let their dog Stanley tromp around outside and waltz right back into the house. Travis even lets him sleep in his bed! So much for all their precautions!

• Will tells Paul that he traveled a whopping fifty miles from his brother's home, looking for water. FIFTY MILES! That's a hell of a long way to go for a drink! Is potable water really that scarce in this world? Surely to Thor he had to have run across a few bottles of water before he got that far away. How long has this disease been around?

And did he really walk the whole fifty miles? He must have, as he never mentions a car or even a bike!

• After Will and his family arrive, Paul runs down the rules of the house for them. Their most important rule of all is "Never, Ever, EVER Go Out At Night."

Sounds pretty compelling and creepy, eh? This ironclad rule implies there's something horrible in the woods, something that only comes out under cover of darkness. Something Paul and his family have seen or heard, that terrified them. What could be lurking out there in the inky blackness?


Absolutely nothing.

As I said earlier, there are no monsters, zombies, or anything else even remotely interesting in this movie. Apparently the only thing lurking in the woods is the characters' fear of the unknown. How spectacularly disappointing.

• There's some really bad editing going on in the scene in which Paul and Will are attacked while driving though the woods. It looks for all the world like a lone man comes running out of the woods, as Paul shoots at him. We then see Will beating someone in the head with a rock, which I assumed was the lone attacker. 

A bit later we see him throwing two men into a shallow grave. I guess there were actually two men who attacked? Maybe if I watched the movie again this scene would make more sense, but that ain't happening.

• At one point Stanley the dog runs off into the woods after something. Later that night, he somehow gets back in the house, and lies dying on the floor, covered in blood. It looks like he's either sick with the plague or has been attacked— it's not clear which.

So many questions here. How'd Stanley get back in the house? Did Andrew hear him and let him in? If he didn't open the door, who did? Did Stanley get sick and come home to die? If not and he was attacked, what did it? Once again, it's apparently none of our business, as none of these questions are ever answered.

• So far I've been pretty hard on It Comes At Night (and rightly so). Are there any pluses?

Eh, a couple. The film isn't the least bit scary, but it does feature an oppressive and unsettling tone, similar to that of 2016's The VVItch. I didn't think much of The VVItch when I first saw it, but it's grown on me over the past year or so, and I have a newfound appreciation of it. So any similarity to it can only be a good thing.

There's also a bleak hopelessness to the film, as we see the characters simply going through the motions of their everyday lives. They're existing rather than actually living. It makes one question whether surviving in a post apocalyptic world would actually be worth it.

That's all I got!  

• The final scene, in which the infected Paul and Sarah sit at their kitchen table, silently staring at one another, is taken right out of John Carpenter's 1982 version of The Thing. Hey, if you're gonna steal, might as well steal from the best!

It Comes At Night is a low budget, slow-burn film that starts out promisingly, but sputters and comes to an abrupt stop in its third act. I wanted to like it, but unfortunately my enjoyment was tainted by the highly misleading marketing, which promised a horror film but instead delivered a survivalist family drama. Do yourself a favor and don't watch the trailer beforehand. I give it a C.

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