It Comes at Night Review: Horror For Horror’s Sake

Generally, the less of a plot, the better the horror film. Keeping it simple and focusing on the filmmaking and mood has been the secret to greatness in the genre since studios started churning out unnecessarily plot heavy horror films decades ago. Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night is one of the best recent examples of a horror film that has too little of a plot. But don’t read this and write it off as a cheap genre affair that didn’t bother to write a script. The film’s story is carefully constructed, with turning points soaked in tension and drama, it’s just that the whole thing ends up feeling a little pointless in the end. Completely intentionally I would add, but pointless nonetheless.

There’s an argument to be made that the film isn’t really horror at all. After a plague wipes out most of the world’s population, starting with the cities, Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live in a electricity-less house in the middle of the woods. The mysterious Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their home looking for food and resources, saying he has a family of his own 50 miles away. After investigating, the family decides to invite this other family to come live with them. What follows is essentially a dark tone poem of tension between the families, paranoid delusions, and horrifying nightmares for Travis. The film does all of these things very well, but it doesn’t wrangle them together to make any kind of coherent story with a point.

But if not for the intense dreams, laden with well-executed horror tropes, the film would really just be an intense drama. And yet, the film would lose its edge and entertainment value if it wasn’t for its uneasy tone and classically horror sequences. Without answering its eery mysteries, however, the film just feels like a collection of scenes that fall within the genre that have too little to do with each other. Too grounded in reality to get away with its surreal bits, though not committed enough to the surreal to get away with how little happens in the film, It Comes at Night just treads water in this uncomfortable middle ground where it fails to find an identity.

It’s a shame really. Shults’ direction is terrific, and the performances of the cast are pretty great all-around. There’s a good film here looking for a few more plot details to fill in the unnecessary blanks. The overtly bleak ending just sort of happens, and left a bad taste in my mouth in regard to what the film was trying to say. But it’s still successful in most of the things it’s trying to do. The film ends up feeling like a genre exercise more than it’s own vision. And despite a few well done scares, that’s a pretty boring thing to be. Grade: C+

By Matt Dougherty

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