Monday, 10 July 2017

It Comes at Night

"I just want to talk, and I want honest answers. Do you have any idea what's going on out there?"

As far as modern film companies go, it’s hard not to love A24. By financing, producing and distributing a wide variety of movies from new and talented filmmakers they have made their mark as a sign of significant quality. Since 2014 a good chunk of the year’s best movies have come under the A24 banner and 2017 looks to continue that winning streak, especially with films as superbly crafted and as refreshingly unique as ‘It Comes At Night’.

 Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, the tenuous order a man (Joel Edgerton) has established with his wife and son is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate family seeking refuge. Despite the best intentions of both families, paranoia and mistrust boil over as the horrors outside creep ever-closer, awakening something hidden and monstrous within the man as he learns that the protection of his family comes at the cost of his soul.

Much like 2016’s ‘The Witch’ (or as the marketing called it, ‘The VVith’) which was also released by A24, ‘It Comes at Night’ is not the conventional horror movie its marketing makes it out to be. It’s not hard to see why some reviews have likened it to a David Lynch film, with its emphasis on atmosphere and provocative imagery over any conventional narrative. It is also similar to a Lynch film in the sense that one should not go into the movie expecting some definitive meaning or allegorical message, its meaning can be highly illusive which will no doubt frustrate some viewers, but those willing to dig deeper will be rewarded.

‘It Comes at Night’ never goes out of its way to explain its environment or meaning to the audience. It drops its viewer straight into its post-apocalyptic setting, the only exposition you get is what is presented right in front of you. We never get a clear answer over what illness has swept this land or what state the world is left in now. There are many heavily implied answers but not everything is shown. In an age where so many films feel as if they can’t even respect the intelligence of their own audience this approach feels so refreshing. Our experience is designed to mimic that of the characters, instilling a sense of uncertainty and fear within us just as it does for the characters.

By furthering the sense of paranoia and tension ‘It Comes at Night’ is able to highlight the themes that underpin the entire film. Confusion and loss play a major part in the films narrative from the first scene to the last and our investment in those themes requires a sense of empathy with the characters within the movie. As I said earlier though, the movie does a masterful job of placing you within the mind set of said characters. The uncertainty and distrust they feel between themselves will plague the mind of the viewer for every scene, especially when so many crucial plot points are conveyed through a subjective lens, casting a shadow of doubt over it both for the characters and the audience.

What makes this lack of information all the more effective is the small scale in which the film takes place. It paints a claustrophobic picture that is completely isolated from the outset, so much so that the presence of any other living creature is made to feel like a subject of terror all on its own. As events do unfold there is almost a cathartic change to the movie’s sense of pace that also raises fear, displaying a truly phenomenal control of structure on the part of director Trey Edward Shults. The film’s cinematography is also brilliant, making such terrific use of light and dark that you feel as if you fully understand that tone of the world the story is set in before the characters have ever said a word.

This isolation might risk wearing thin if the characters were not likable or empathetic. But thanks to both the sense of atmosphere that places you in their state of mind, as well as the characters themselves being written as sympathetic human beings, I found myself constantly invested in their struggle, empathising with their actions whilst sympathising with their moral dilemma. They were also portrayed brilliantly, with each actor being superb in their role. Like the film around them each actor carries an air of ambiguity to their portrayal of the character, highlighting the possible ulterior motives that could be lurking under any of their actions as well as anything they say.

I have reservations in saying that ‘It Comes at Night’ is a terrifying film, but not in a conventional sense. It is what remains unspoken that is most frightening, the doubt and paranoia is what leaves the biggest impact, playing on our fears of the unknown. However, it’s not just implied scares as the film’s director Shults has a superb eye for conveying tension and dread. The fear that the characters feel is so effectively translated to the audience through his directorial skill. His patient camera movements almost seems to be inviting some kind of terror onto the screen, to a point where even relatively mundane scenes can turn into a masterclass of tension through the subtlest of camera moves. The use of music also elevates it even further, drawing us deeper into the unspoken horror of the narrative without ever feeling contrived.

Like the best of horror films, ‘It Comes at Night’ highlights the way that true horror comes from within. It is as much a terrifying character study as it is an exercise in terror, placing us within the perspective and mind set of the characters before forcing us to confront what we would do in their situation. In his second feature film Shults has more than established himself as a talent to watch out for. It is at that point in the story where we realise there are no discernible villains beyond what already lies within.

Masterfully tense, brilliantly paced and intricately staged, ‘It Comes at Night’ plays on our fears of the unknown as well as our fears of the internal.

Result: 9/10

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