It Comes at Night is a film that reveals itself, to whatever small extent it does so, only in retrospect. Writer/director Trey Edward Schultz’s latest is an apocalyptic thriller, something along the lines of a bottle episode of The Walking Dead, if The Walking Dead were a stage play. It’s proven difficult to discuss the film without commenting on it in its entirety, which is not to say the movie hinges on some twist or trick, but that ultimately the entire plot of the film, from beginning to end, becomes infinitely more fascinating when viewed as a whole.
I will now summon what authorial tact I have in the pursuit of saying something worthwhile about the film without touching on any of the facets revealed across its running time that I now, looking back, have found so fascinating.
I’m gonna shoot for, like, a 60/40 split between vague and pretentious.
Don’t let the marketing fool you. It Comes at Night it no horror film. It’s more of a slow burn thriller of the sort in which you can hear a fuse burning but you can’t see it, and thus have no real way of knowing how high or low the tension really is, only that it is there and that inevitably, as there is most certainly a fuse of indeterminate length burning away somewhere, that dynamite is going to go off.
It Comes at Night is haunted by a sense of inevitability and, as a result, often feels as though it is flirting with fatalism. There’s no long-term goal for our protagonists, nor any inclination that there is some sort of victory for them to aspire to. They live in a cabin in the woods, in a world torn down by disease. Their highest aspirations are simply not to get sick, which they will fight tooth and nail to avoid, despite being surrounded by clear indications that one form of doom or another is inevitable.
Throughout the film, slowly, steadily, variables are introduced that promise to spell some amount of doom. Not apocalyptic variables mind you. Small ones. Ones that you might not have noticed in a movie that wasn’t the size of a play. Variables that mean nothing upon introduction but so clearly promise to grow and multiply and eventually add up to something horrible.
It Comes at Night isn’t The Blair Witch Project or The Witch. It’s a nagging philosophical shot in the dark. In a world in which life is so nasty, brutish and short, where doom is inevitable, what drives these characters to do what they do? And is it any different, any more inexplicable, than what drives us in the audience to do what we do?
Okay, maybe 40/60.