It Comes at Night (2017)
There are different kinds of R, especially when it comes to horror movie. I would say about 90% of this R comes from genuinely spooky gore effects. The entire movie is spooky and, for all we know, the MPAA might just give a movie an R because it is extremely effective at being creepy. The rest boils down to language and sexuality. There isn't a ton of sex in the movie, but what is there is haunting.
DIRECTOR: Trey Edward Shults
Immediately after finishing this one, I went to Google. I had to know if my interpretation was accurate. (I'm sure as a guy who claims he's a film guy, I should have rewatched the movie. When my frustration would hit a fever pitch, I should have watched the movie again with commentary. But we haaaaaavvvveee Google...) There are so many interviews with Trey Edward Shults about the film. I can see why. The movie is one that naturally brings up a lot of questions. But in every interview, he states, "I didn't make a movie to frustrate people." Yes, you did. Oh my goodness, you did. You might not like the connotation of the word "frustrate", but you wanted people scratching their heads and asking themselves what they just watched. That is the point of the movie and that's not a bad thing. Just embrace that attitude, Mr. Shults, and we can all continue discussing what was and wasn't important. Besides, I kind of like movies that intentionally don't tell you stuff. Not Mulholland Drive, of course, because I need to maintain my rep as the sole David Lynch skeptic. But other stuff. You know? Memento. (I hate myself.)
I love A24. They have made me excited to see movies again. I'm not saying that I'm never excited to see movies, but when they announce a horror movie, I get excited. The weird part is that they don't scare me as much as I think they will. But the point is that I believe that they might genuinely destroy me and I haven't felt that since high school. There is a possibility to each of these movies. Even if a movie doesn't destroy me, like The VVitch or It Comes at Night, I still really enjoy them. They are authentically spooky. I think it might be the A24 aesthetic. I consider A24 to be the home of arthouse horror. Arthouse horror, which I feel like I've coined that term, can be really bad. Lars von Trier is always way too much for me. I've always respected von Trier's craftsmanship, but the execution and enjoyability of the film has always suffered because of his extremism. I feel like the A24, It Comes at Night included, know how to balance heavy themes and gorgeous cinematography with entertainment. Admittedly, these movies are paced at a snail's pace compared to the horror movies of today. Rather, these movies just relish atmosphere. The look of these movies is very similar. Whatever A24 movie I watched last, I think I commented that the producers might have a bit of influence over what one of these movies should look like. (I think it was A Ghost Story.) But these movies relish hard light, low light, and natural light like other movies don't even dare to. I'm so used to the bathing of a scene in light that I'm just thinking that's how reality looks now. But these movies are so dynamic with their lighting and use of muted colors that it becomes far more interesting. These shadows are real shadows, but they are far more haunting. It Comes at Night also takes it a step further by using the uniqueness of nature to build off of those shadows. Trees aren't upright. They are sideways and coiled in on themselves. Because of the greater setting, the house takes on a personality in harmony with that. The wooden house, spartan and dark, feels like an extension of the woods. Travis's lantern illuminates the imperfections of the walls and the naturalness of the woods. It makes these objects in the film gain significance. The red door seems like such a color contrast to the grays and greens of the forest, which makes the imagery effective.
I mentioned that this movie is meant to frustrate. I say this in the most playful way. Shults adds constant red herrings to the film seemingly on purpose. Again, I highlight my hypocrisy because I'm the guy who hated the Lost ending because its paid nothing off. But everything that is dropped in this movie is a choice. These scenes are in the movie because we are experiencing the story from Travis's perspective. Travis, as a character, is not an investigator. He spies on the new people in the house, but he does not really look for answers. When clues to the events around him happen, he is as puzzled as we are. I'm sure that Shults probably has an answer for everything that happens in this movie. But the movie intentionally avoids world building, at least in a way that panders to the audience. There are rules to this world that exist, but we aren't allowed to know these rules. I think my favorite perk about this attitude is that there is no info dump. At no point does the film attempt to shoehorn in exposition. What are the rules of the virus? I don't know, but the characters certainly seem to. We can glean enough to follow along, but why would the characters be talking about things that they all know? What attacked the dog? Who knows, but it exists. Who opened the door? That's creepy as heck and there definitely is answer. BIG OL' SPOILER: Is Andrew sick? He's gonna film the movie to not let you know. Andrew will always be blocked or out of focus. Oh my gosh. I mean, you can glean an answer based on the end of the film, but even the end of the film is kind of ambiguous. (Okay, my Google search reveals the true meaning of the end, which cheapens it a little bit. But that's my fault, not the movie's.) You could read into this that the director thinks that he's smarter than his audience. I never get that vibe. I get the vibe that the director really loves his audience. I think that he wants people to talk about this movie afterwards. I guess that's probably my best advice. Watch it with like minded individuals who want to talk. It would be easy to write this movie off, but it is way more fun to discuss it. (I think I take this blog so seriously because no one ever wants to talk movies with me.)
The performances in this movie are awesome. This is another one of the movies where Joel Edgerton delivers an amazing performance, but audiences hate the movie. (I swear, there are actors who are consistently pretty great, but never catch a break successfully.) I have to give Edgerton props for being just the most intense while realistic. There are these moments to his performance where he seemingly lets his hair down. But knowing what I now know about the movie, I have to question whether these moments were him disguising his true intentions or that he was actually vulnerable. Most of this movie, shy of red herrings, is about mistrust and paranoia. Playing that without telegraphing is an impressive feat. But even more impressive is the kid who plays Travis. His name is Kelvin Harrison Jr. I don't know him, but he's got the weight of the movie on him. It would be a mistake to chalk his entire performance up to looking scared, but he's got this wealth of stuff to deal with and mostly just his facial expression to deal with. He doesn't really have a surplus of lines, so there's so much communicated by his simple wandering. No moment is really overplayed by this kid and I'm kind of impressed by it. Honestly, the creepiest part of the movie isn't the gore effects or the whatever it is in the woods. It's him walking around his house at night with that Coleman lantern. I don't know why it bothers me so, but it really does.
It's not my favorite A24, but it is really good. I don't really understand the negative reviews for the movie. I suppose most audiences had the same problems with The VVitch, But I did really enjoy it. I'd even consider rewatching it and see if I find clues to the mysteries hidden within. There's probably nothing there, but I can't say there's nothing until I've tried my best to spot them.
Oh, wait. There's Google. TO THE INTERNET!
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.