Sunday, June 11, 2017
It Comes at Night
Sneaking into theatres along with the big budget blockbusters currently screening is a film that might just be better than any of them (ok, maybe not Wonder Woman, but it's close), It Comes at Night. Frightening and scary in a very grounded and real way, this is a thriller that will stick with me for a long time.
A small family of three, Paul (played by Joel Edgerton), Sarah (played by Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (played by Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), are holed up in a large cabin in the middle of the woods. There is a global pandemic going on that has thrown the world into chaos and they have isolated themselves from society in a bid for survival. They have boarded up all the windows and the only way into the cabin is though a triple bolted door, ominously painted red. One night, the family is jolted awake by a man, Will (played by Christopher Abbott) trying to break into the cabin. Paul is able to subdue him and take him outside, tying him to a tree. Paul then proceeds to leave him there for 24 hours in an attempt to determine if Will is alone. Satisfied, Paul then goes out and questions Will. Will explains that he tried breaking in only because it looked abandoned (to be fair, it does) and otherwise wouldn't have if he knew a family was living there. He explains he has a wife and kid himself stashed away in an abandoned house not far away and can trade with them for supplies. Instead, Paul invites them to come stay with them at the cabin in part because he fears that if they leave, word will leak out about where they are. From there a tentative friendship begins between the two families as they combine resources. But slowly doubts, fears and paranoia begin to come in as each family begins to wonder who the other really is.
The film was directed and written by Trey Edward Shults who crafts a startlingly real portrait of two families trying to survive in a world gone completely off the rails. He creates a very realistic depiction of what people might do to try and survive a global pandemic and also how a situation would push a person to do things they would never normally think themselves capable of doing, all in the name of keeping their family safe. Each moment of storytelling in the film and the decisions of the characters makes sense from a "What would I do?" perspective. I totally got that Paul, Sarah and Travis wanted to help Will and his family, but at the same time they have to take some severe precautions to make sure they stay safe, not only from looters but from infected people as well. The film does a good job of tapping into human nature, especially with feelings of fear and mistrust. The question of how well does anyone really know someone? It really taps into the nature of fear and paranoia and how it can affect someone, with that being the "It" of the title. Throughout the day, everyone is keeping busy and bonding. Will teaches Travis how to split firewood while Paul keeps watch. The wives bond while doing their chores. The two families bond while playing board games. But, alone at night when the house gets quiet and each person just has their thoughts, those fears come creeping in again.
The acting is strong across the cast of the film. Joel Edgerton brings a lot of balance to Paul, a man willing to do whatever it takes to keep his wife and son safe. He is able to show both the regimented strictness that his character has is designed with safety in mind in a world gone mad and offset that with the more compassionate side of the character. Will is a very similar character trying to get his family to safety and under normal circumstances, Paul and Will very much could have become friends. It's a smart decision on the actors and the director to not try and make either character seem outright villainous because neither one is, but rather their own insecurities and paranoia escalating the tenuous partnership between the two. The other performance that really impressed me was Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Travis. He does a great job portraying a young teen forced to grow up fast and how everything that has happened is really starting to effect him mentally. He's having trouble sleeping and having increasingly intense nightmares (this movie is one of the rare times I didn't mind the whole "it was all a dream" trope). It's a rather understated and realistic performance that also conveys what effect the stress of their lives is having on him.
It Comes at Night is a unique thriller that takes a nightmare scenario and plays it out in very realistic terms, which in turn makes it all that much scarier. By presenting us with two relatable, everyday families and watch them as they try to survive a global plague, isolated from the rest of society as their own paranoia and fears about one another threaten to tear them apart. The film works largely because it feels so real and it's not hard to relate to the characters and wonder if you'd do anything different in the situation. The really scary part for me is realizing there probably was not.