It comes at Night is a tight knit post-apocalyptic thriller that derives most of its terror from the other and the unknown. The whole films a glorious cock tease to the unexpected monster at the end. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t watch the trailer; go out and see it.
It comes at Night takes a page from The Road and Last of Us, both in ascetic and story—plenty of plaid shirts, gas masks and depressing decisions. A deadly virus ravaged the world and no one knows where it came from or how it spread.
The film kicks off with a difficult choice. After their grandfather is infected by the pox to the point of madness, Paul (Edgerton) and his son, Travis are forced to murder him and burn his remains. In doing so, smoke from the grandfather’s remains attracts the attention of a stranger to their cabin in the woods; A desperate man named Will (Chistopher Abbott), who also has family to take care of. Under the advice of his wife (Ejogo), Paul decides that the two families could benefit from living with each other.
They live under the same roof, chop firewood, and tend to their livestock during the day. When the sun sets, they head inside and make damn sure that they bolt the lock on their door. Lingering shots on the red door that separates them from whatever is out there, leaves the audience wondering. We beg the question of what’s outside, without calling into question the possible monsters on the inside.
It Comes at Night slow burns. For the most part, we witness the story through the son, Travis’s eyes. His perspective is young, sexually frustrated, fearful and all around untrustworthy. His dream sequences of his new neighbours, his dying grandfather, and fear of the pox, pad the film for terror. Inane tasks take up the daylight.
Understandably, Travis grows an attraction to the newcomer’s wife, and his dreams illustrate his fear and attraction in what one could call a pretty wet dream. His other dreams dwell on the door, and the unknown thing that lies beyond it. On the visual end, these night sequences do a perfect job of capturing darkness. There’s never a feeling of studio light behind the camera. The light that the characters have, be it their lantern or the sunlight, is all that lights their way. The pure darkness lends to the tension.
We experience Travis’s fears. Namely, the fear of the Other, or Hegel’s Other. I don’t want to lose anybody with a lot of philosophy, but I feel it’s important to the film. The Other has many interpretations, so boiling it down in twenty five words or less does the concept a disservice. But not everyone has time to read the Hegel and the works it inspired. So, simply put: The Other is the opposite to the Self. The Self is known. The Other is unknown, alien, and often perceived as dangerous.
Most, in some way, operate with this mentality, whether we care to admit it or not. We often hear sentences like, “Those other drivers on the road are all shit. You really gotta look out for yourself.” But Us and Them, Self and Other is all an artificial dichotomy. There is no enemy in another, only in the self, and the paranoia therein—Something that this movie drives home.
As the days wear on, the trust between the families wear thin. After a contagion scare, the families agree to segregate each other off in their perspective bedrooms. Spoilers—eventually, it comes to light that the boy of the other family is infected. As expected, the newcomers wont go quietly into the night, or give up their ill boy. They become reactionary and fearful.
Everyone goes about the situation in the worst possible way. And in an ending that ranks up there with The Mist and The Road as one of the happiest endings of all time, a savage fight ensues between the families. Will lies dying on the ground, wheezing for his wife as she cradles her lifeless child. Paul ends her weeping with a bullet. The scene attempts to drive home the idea that there is no monster, only man.
But the ending didn’t have the punch the director intended. I shrugged at the moral dilemma presented. I understand that the other family deserves their lives just as much as Edgerton’s family. I see the grey. But I have no sympathy for the dead family. In times of survival, one fights for the minute; Minute to minute.
And I see no horror in Paul’s actions either. The shadow in the self, or “the monster” in Edgerton’s character that leads him to murder the other family, isn’t a bad guy: it’s a necessary evil: An irreducible aspect of survival that helps protect and keep one alive. So, while I agree with the ethos that there is no Other and that man’s just a reflection of man, I think I speak for most when I say all that lofty shit goes out the window when you point a gun at my family.
Still, none of this detracts from an otherwise entertaining and tense film. I urge you to see It Comes at Night if you haven’t, and I hope I haven’t ruined it too much already.