It Comes at Night Trey Edward Shults (USA 2017) Joel Egerton, Christopher Abbot, Carment Ejogo. Viewed Cineworld Newcastle 17 July 2017; ticket: £4.00
If you go into the woods…
Funnily enough the brutal front on barrage of cinema adverts before the movie,( representing forces of the known) felt like a preparation for Shults’ assault by forces of the unknown: the bank ad (Nat West) mobile phones, cars (VW and mini) all targeted right at the guts, contaminated me with desire and loathing before first frame of picture.
Shults’ movie ‘It Comes at Night’ in its very title suggests classic horror genre. ‘It’ and ‘Night’ reference a script and scenario in which there is a certain design aesthetic at work. A design in which, as Tom Stoppard writes, events play themselves out to a certain logical conclusion: namely one in which finally the point is reached where all who are marked out for death, die. And of course in this case that means: everyone. Every one of them dies.
It Comes at Night reminded me in its look and feel, in some respects, of the Blair Witch Project: but less clever in conception. Blair Witch also had the same tragic design and also used something of the same repetitive visual tropes as when the camera, from point of view of one of the characters, stares into the unyielding density of primal forest: we can see nothing but perceive only threat. The act of looking in itself yields an amplification of fear of the unseen and unknown. Something must be out there.
But whereas Blair Witch was about psychic resources that centre on sexual archetypes relating to the female anima, Shults’ film is an American Gothic experience. The opening shot a very big close up of ‘Dad’s’ face, hollowed out and yellowed in best tradition of Poe’s cadaver’s, is vivid and present presaging a film that is an immersive experience with a contmeporary psychic resonance. Where Blair Witch is cerebral in its affect, It Comes at Night is a goth installation that situates the viewer within the film.
The movie centres about the psychological state of paranoia. The state of exaggerated and uncontrollable fear that increasingly defines the USA of today. The USA as a polarised society where the imagined becomes real, where fear lurks at the perimeter of the sight lines. Where the best sight line is down the barrel of a gun.
It Comes at Night posits a world characterised by lethal pandemic. For survivors all aspects of the outside world are suspect or infectious: potentially lethal. The plot, such as it is, is minimal, a device for permitting a range of atmospheric effects and events to further absorb the viewer into the screen. The family ‘holed up’ in the house, somewhat implausibly (but it is a movie so that’s OK) invite another family to share their safe space. Exploiting a number of devices including classic ambiguous sequences (modern movies abound with these), shot and edited so as to resist viewer ability to frame them as either ‘real’ or ‘dream’, the two families, though starting with good intentions, lose trust in each other and become a source of anxiety, creating the very situation which they hoped to avoid.
Shot in high key and with low to ‘no’ lighting, It Comes at Night falls back on traditional horror technique to works its affects. The film’s effect and substance are structured out of camera movement and sound track. The camera continually tracking down and round dark corridors, through dense forest, panning across black space, focusing on the key anxiety object that is the access door with its lever handle. Each setting or event drummed out with scary electronic music and sudden stings from the sound track. “ You can’t trust anyone but family” intones the in-house ‘Daddy’.
With its stilted dialogue adding little to the series of visual and sound clichés that make up the film, It Comes at Night is a movie for the late night players and seems to have played well to a certain audience. This is interesting. Shults offers little in the way of originality or tension, but his film is a studied reminder of the psychic bleakness of an age dominated by a set of deranged tarot cards. Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com