It’s interesting to see a movie where the title is exposition for the story. We begin the movie knowing that Joel Edgerton (Paul) and his family don’t go out at night. However, we don’t know what It is. I’ll tell you that it’s not the clown, Pennywise, otherwise I won’t spoil anything else.
I watched It Comes At Night only having seen a couple of trailers and hearing about it from its film festival screenings. If you can manage it, watch and read as little about it as possible. And if you’re on the fence about watching it, hopefully I can convince you to go see it, and with an open mind as well. I say this because I think it will different than what you’ll expect. It certainly was for me.
This will probably be a shorter review as well, just because I don’t want to give all of it away. Alright, I’ll quit building it up now.
This was a very personal film to make for director Trey Shults. This is made abundantly clear in Night. Shults has said he didn’t even try to make a horror film. I can tell you that it is definitely scary but not in typical horror fashion, save for a few scenes. There is always a sense of imminent danger and suspense, never letting you sit easily.
It Comes At Night isn’t scary because of what’s on screen. In fact, nothing you see on screen is actually making you scared. It’s partially using the Hitchcock and Jaws method of fear where you show the evil entity as little as you can because what you imagine is far scarier than anything shown in the movie. But Night is really about our fear of death and the unknown. Before you leave the theater thinking the story was unfulfilling, think about what’s scarier; having a big (scary or not) reveal that cleanly concludes the story or having unanswered questions about the horror that is still out there. Life isn’t a cut and dry, three act story. It’s full of uncertainty, confusion and questions we’ll never have answered.
Shults’ direction is a huge factor in making Night work. Take a scene of dialogue between two characters facing each other. Instead of cutting to each person as they talk, the camera pans left and right in a single take. It makes you feel like a third person there observing, but the camera moves just slow enough to build a sense of discomfort and tension. The aspect ratio even changes some time during the film. I don’t know the reason for this but it’s a great representation of Shults’ style as a director. He’s able to create a dreadful atmosphere that the characters live in, so much so that it almost doesn’t matter what happens in the film.
Going back to the dialogue of Night, I found it very effective because it isn’t exposition heavy. There’s no monologue informing you everything that happened leading up to these events. We assume everyone knows what happened, allowing for natural dialogue between characters. And once again, it emphasizes the fear of the unknown.
I can’t remember the last horror movie I saw that didn’t have cheap jump scares like something popping into screen or a juxtaposed scary noise. Night also uses some of these, mainly in nightmare sequences. I think they’re important to setting up characters but it became redundant. In one extended sequence, I was taken out of the movie and unaffected for this reason.
If you’ve seen a lot of marketing for this film, I wouldn’t trust it very much. It paints a very different picture than what the film actually is. I’m not chastising A24 for this either because I don’t know ho I would still highly recommend seeing this, with the caveat that you have an open mind to a different kind of horror film.