It Comes at Night: Movie Review

It Comes at Night is a 2017 film written and directed by Trey Edward Shults and it’s one of those recent horror movies that I personally associate with the various It Follows (2014), The Witch (2015), Get Out (2017), A Quiet Place (2018), The Babadook (2014), Hereditary (2018) etcetera. In other words, it’s one of those films that doesn’t go for the easy jump scare, it has a simple but not obvious plot, it’s technically well made, and it deals with a profound theme in an innovative way. In this case, the underlying theme is paranoia and the setting could not be more appropriate in Covid-19 times…

At the beginning of the film we see a family formed by a father (Paul, Joel Edgerton), a mother (Sarah, Carmen Ejogo), and a son (Travis, Kelvin Harris Jr.) who take their infected grandfather (Bud, David Pendleton) out of their house where they are barricaded. They kill him with a gunshot to the head and burn the body, protecting themselves from a possible infection with gas masks and gloves. Then, during the night, someone breaks into the house, Paul knocks him out and interrogates him the next day. His name is Will (Christopher Abbott) and he claims to be looking for water for his family and that he didn’t know that the house was inhabited. Is it true? Or is he lying?

If you’ve read The Walking Dead (or watched the series), this should be a familiar situation, of course. In short, this is the classic post apocalyptic situation à la Mad Max! Paul decides to give Will a chance and goes with him in search of his family and his animals, but the two are immediately ambushed! So was Paul right to be wary of Will? And we can go on and on with these doubts. The 88 minute-long film is a study of paranoia and anxiety, which are perhaps exactly the things that come at night to which the title refers and which are related to Travis’s disturbing dreams that start right after Bud’s death.

Entering spoiler territory, the lack of answers from Shults instead of being frustrating enriches the experience of the viewer (it doesn’t ruin the movie experience like the finale of Inception, 2010). The massacre of Will’s family is a sad moment even more because of the lack of certainty: was Will’s son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) really infected? Had he opened the red door and let in the injured dog? Or was it Travis who was infected (right away, or maybe from touching the dog) and Will had simply realized that it was better to flee the house to avoid contagion?

We don’t know and we will never know. What we do know is that when, at the very end, Sarah talks to infected Travis she doesn’t wear the mask, as if to say that eventually everyone will inevitably be infected. But even before that we see the total loss of humanity of Paul and Sarah in their blank stares: the will to survive avoiding infection has emptied them of their humanity, and it has led them to kill defenseless humans in cold blood… Why? Only because they suspected something, with no evidence whatsoever! Sure, Will probably lied about his brother. And maybe he was an alcoholic (this is communicated very subtly in a nice dialogue with Paul). And who knows if he knew the two mysterious assailants that he didn’t want Paul to kill. But is this enough to justify his murder? These are just small things magnified by the anxiety and paranoia that have taken possession of the inhabitants of the house!

To conclude, let’s go back to the point of the film, which is not finding out about the infection or what happened to the rest of the world, but simply studying what human beings can do when isolated from society in an extreme situation. The movie seems particularly prophetic to me in light of the recent events related to the Covid-19 pandemic! There are already reports of mental disorders caused by the forced quarantine in which we have lived / we are living for months (and who knows when this will end), and more generally this unprecedented situation certainly will have both psychological and social consequences in the long term. It Comes at Night warns us that the loss of humanity is not such a remote eventuality and it can be interpreted as an invitation to remain calm in the face of adversity such as the one we are experiencing. Highly recommended! Ciao!

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