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Seventeen year-old Travis, secure within a desolate home with his protective and heavily armed parents (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo), watches his world abruptly change with the arrival of a desperate couple (Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough) and their young child. Panic and mistrust grow as the dangers of the outside world creep ever closer… but they may be nothing compared to the dangers within. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)

 It Comes at Night
Blood & guts monster movies and slashers are still the meat & potatoes of mainstream horror, but, for the better part of a decade now, independently-made, theme-driven films have been making their mark and stoking controversy. Unlike their art horror counterparts of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the controversy rarely stems from the ‘normals’ objecting to the shocking content. Instead, genre fans themselves that are resenting these movies for their lack of conventional scares. Personally, I find the movement that birthed Jennifer Kent’s Babadook (2014), Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015), and (arguably) Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012) quite refreshing. On the other hand, I don’t think I’m so invested in a uniquely post-millennial horror movement that I’m willing to overlook it when filmmakers hide a lack of content behind a veil of ‘deliberate pacing’ or whatever ambiguous excuse a filmmaker can offer.

Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night fits this new genre standard and, as a result, it has garnered plenty of that juicy controversy, in large part due to a successful, but certainly misleading ad campaign. Like other modern theme-driven horror films, It Comes at Night depends more on tone and tension than narrative momentum or innovation. Arguably, it’s rarely even concerned with scares than less definable sense of dread and the emotional state of its characters. This is only Shults’ second feature film as writer/director, following 2015’s Krisha – a high-anxiety, jet black satire-turned-tragedy about middle age and upper class suburban familial gatherings (based on his own 2014 short film). Unlike It Comes at Night, Krisha doesn’t qualify as a horror movie at all, despite being more intense than most films featuring mad killers, man-eating monsters, and soul-stealing demons. But Shults is definitely utilizing the same skillset for both, especially where the floaty camera work and super-tight editing are concerned (though Shults co-edited It Comes at Night with Matthew Hannam). Viewing Krisha before It Comes at Night helps contextualize the director’s rhythmic patterns, impressionistic storytelling and, ultimately, may have made it easier for me, personally to appreciate both films.

 It Comes at Night
Shults has cited the same bleak horror movies that everyone else cites as inspiration, namely George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), as well as unspecified John Cassavetes and Paul Thomas Anderson movies. The Shining comparison is clearly aesthetic (lots of still shots, vanishing-point compositions, and slow dolly zooms), but the Night of the Living Dead influences are more thematic and really begin to solidify as the the film extends into its second act. In fact, It Comes at Night is very nearly a zombie-free remake of Romero’s film – one which poses similar moral questions about the nature of community during times of crisis. Both films reach the same, very bleak conclusion. However, this comparison also drives home the impossible prevalence of post-apocalyptic storytelling themes. Shults brings an inventive visual approach, but the subgenre tropes have saturated film, TV, books, and video games to the point that there’s nothing unique about his universe and its rules, especially given the purposefully oblique presentation. There comes a point when neatly edited montages of Hieronymus Bosch paintings are no longer enough and I wished It Comes at Night would fully embrace the hellish, abstract horror that those paintings represent. But, then, I also have to admit that the moments in which it most closely embraces horror aesthetics (such moments tend to be neatly nested within dream sequences) also feel in conflict with the type of droning, doom-laced movie that Shults is trying to create. It’s definitely a catch-22 situation and one I’m not sure could be avoided without fundamentally changing the movie.

 It Comes at Night

Video


It Comes at Night was shot using Arri Alexa XT digital cameras and is presented here in its original mixed aspect ratio (though it is usually set at 2.40:1, the tops and bottoms of the frame sometimes squeeze to 2.55:1 and 3.00:1), 1080p HD video. Shults and cinematographer Drew Daniels utilize the format’s clarity in darkness to its greatest advantage, as this is one of the most prevalently and consistently blackened films I’ve ever seen – which is really saying something in this era of very dark photography. Even the select outdoor daylight sequences are overcast and glum. Unlike other particularly shadowed movies, I can actually see what’s going on most of the time, because the compositions are largely still and specifically staged to ensure that none of the minimal light is wasted. Edges vary between hard and soft, depending on the focus, which is usually pulled pretty tight. As a result, gradations can feature minor banding effects, but the overall compression is impressive enough to hold noise at bay (the digital grain actually appears quite film-like). The closest thing I can find to a real issue with the footage is a slightly muddy quality of textures during wide-angle shots, though this really seems tied to the aforementioned darkness. Colour quality is largely desaturated and alternate between blue/green scenes and orange/brown scenes.

Audio


It Comes at Night is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. The sound design is delicate and dynamic with emphasis on subjective noise, rather than objective, ‘realistic’ sound. The attention to dynamic range is so extraordinary that the sudden rushes from silence into roaring noise and back again are actually enough to make your ears ring. Dialogue remains consistent and the stereo/surround channels are tastefully integrated. Composer Brian McOmber takes a more traditional, symphonic approach than he did with his more abstract Krisha score, but still maintains the same expressionism. The music fits tightly among the already rhythmic effects editing. Sometimes, it disappears entirely into the spooky ambience, while, other times, it branches out into powerful, booming motifs.

 It Comes at Night

Extras


  • Commentary with writer/director Trey Edward Shults and actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. – Shults and Harrison Jr. (who arguably plays the lead character, Travis) discuss the making-of process and drop some amusing anecdotes about life on set (they devolve into giggle fits on several occasions and it’s very sweet), as well as cover the film’s prevalent themes. Not surprisingly (especially not following Krisha), the screenplay was based largely on Shults’ personal life and hardships, though not literally, of course.
  • Human Nature: The Making of It Comes at Night (29:37, HD) – A reasonably fluffy behind-the-scenes EPK that includes decent cast & crew interviews, but in the process of trying to sell the movie, sort of misses the point in the same way the trailers did.
  • Trailers for other Lionsgate releases


 It Comes at Night

Overall


It Comes at Night is an emotionally shattering, depressing, and teeth-grittingly intense portrayal of old ideas and stunningly obvious metaphors. It’s so impeccably made and perfectly acted that its lack of a fresh perspective is ultimately forgivable. It makes a compelling companion piece to writer/director Trey Edward Shults’ first film, Krisha, and his biggest inspiration, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. This Blu-ray features a strong HD transfer, considering how dark the photography is, a super dynamic soundtrack, and a charming commentary track that makes up for the fluffy behind-the-scenes featurette.

 It Comes at Night

 It Comes at Night
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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