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It’s Not Your Typical Post-Apocalypse in IT COMES AT NIGHT (Review)

It’s Not Your Typical Post-Apocalypse in IT COMES AT NIGHT (Review)

Imagine a particularly impressive indie zombie movie — only with all the zombies removed. No biting, no “infected,” no gore, and no traditional zombie “action” to speak of; only two desperate families trying to maintain some semblance of humanity during mankind’s final gasps. Sounds like a pretty downbeat affair, right? Well, yes. It is. Trey Edward Shults’ stark, sobering, and quietly fascinating It Comes at Night is for genre fans who are in the market for something more cerebral and personal than the average “end of the world” story, and it finds a place alongside Carriers (2009), The Battery (2012), and Aftermath (2015) as low-key, provocative subversion of standard post-apocalyptic material.

Paul (Joel Edgerton, The Gift) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo, Alien: Covenant) live in an isolated cabin with their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr., The Birth of a Nation), and right off the bat we know something has gone horribly wrong. Paul and Sarah maintain a strict set of guidelines for going outside — gas masks must be worn, for example — and generally behave like an invisible poison is going to invade their home at any moment. And that could actually be the case for all the viewer knows, because Mr. Shults (working on his second feature after the celebrated indie Krisha) is clearly not all that interested in doling out any answers in any sort of a hurry. Hardly an upbeat affair by any measure, It Comes at Night gets even gloomier thanks to some masterful work from cinematographer* Drew Daniels, who presents Shults’ tale of waning humanity like some sort of stream-of-consciousness nuclear family nightmare.

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And therein lies the appeal of It Comes at Night. Not only are we asked to keep up with a story that only offers a few key details, but we’re also witness to a¬†true struggle of morality when another family shows up, desperate for some food, water, and shelter. At this point Paul has to decide between keeping his family safe — as well as completely cut off from society — or allowing the newcomers (a young couple and their baby boy) to share their meager supplies. One could also extrapolate all sorts of juicy socio-political subtext from the film’s central conflict if that’s the sort of film analysis you’re into (i.e. the desire to “protect” your own at the expense of helpless refugees, etc.) but It Comes at Night works best as a dark, moody, and ultimately very challenging morality tale.

And yes, it’s also very ominous, intense, and creepy, but not in the typical horror film fashion. I mention this (again) as both a compliment to an audaciously unconventional horror film, and also as a semi-warning to viewers who are in the market for something loaded with gore, carnage, and action. There are tons of those types of movies. It Comes at Night is considerably more interested in what happens to people after the madness has died down, and how they deal with the loss of, well, pretty much everything.

4 sobering yet oddly satisfying burritos out of 5

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(* Note of disclosure. Drew Daniels was also the DP on Found Footage 3-D, a film I co-produced. He’s an amazing cinematographer and will probably be an Oscar winner one day.)

Image: A24

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