There is nothing like leaving the office after a day of sanity threatening work that has slowly chipped my personality into fragments that have been used to build a castle of nihilism, and going straight to the movie theater to watch a thought provoking and thrilling story.
After over paying for a fountain soda and butter soaked popcorn with money that I don’t have, I walked solo into the empty 5:05 pm showing of It Comes at Night. My friend joined me shortly later and we pompously scoffed at the marketing filled trivia questions and pandering ads aired before the movie.
Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults (who is just 28 years old), It Comes at Night is a post-apocalyptic thriller movie that explores the psychological trauma that comes with surviving in a world destroyed by a contagious disease. Other than it being created by an extremely young director, stars Joel Edgerton, and was produced by A24, I knew nothing about this movie as I waddled into the theater. A thriller with a dope movie poster made by A24 is all I needed to warrant a viewing.
This movie fits my tastes perfectly. It is an anxious, thrilling, and mysterious movie that takes my attention hostage and leaves me asking questions and forming theories.
As always with these movies, the less you know the better, so be wary of spoilers in the rest of this post.
It Comes At Night
Forceful exposition is one of my least favorite traits about movies. It Comes at Night drops the viewer right in the middle of a horrifying and emotional scene of a sick man being transported via wheel barrow to a grave by a man and his son wearing gloves and gas masks. A gunshot to the sick man’s head, a few splashes of gasoline, and a match create a huge fire in the middle of the woods which concludes the efficient and ruthless funeral. A camera shot of the son wearing a gas mask staring at the blaze with the flames reflecting on his eye shield set the tone for the rest of the movie.
Just minutes into the movie as the title shot appeared on the screen through the black smoke of the fire, the viewer already knows there is a contagious fatal disease that requires a complete destruction of the corpse to be fully contained. Scary fucked up shit is about to go down and Shults used imagery in a simple scene to set up the exposition, not forced unnatural hand holding dialogue.
The small family of a mother, father, and son live in a large boarded up secluded home in the middle of the woods. The father, Paul (Joel Edgerton) is a well prepared and cautious man who considers the safety of his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in every action he takes. The family was distraught after the death of Sarah’s father (whom was burned in the opening scene) but continued on. The next night Paul stopped an intruder and kept him hostage tied to a tree for a day to make sure he wasn’t sick.
Paul learns the man’s name is Will (Christopher Abbot) and that he attempted entry into the home under the assumption it was abandoned. He was in search of water and supplies for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and young son Andrew. Will offers food in exchange for supplies stating he has several farm animals. After discussing the matter with Sarah, Paul decides to allow Will and his family to move in with them. Paul and Will leave the home to get Kim and Andrew and they get ambushed on the road. After killing two men, Paul and Will return with the animals and Will’s family.
The two small families live together forming a relationship over time. After the peculiar death of Travis’s dog and the signs of infection, paranoia settles in and both families turn on each other resulting in the death and infection of everyone.
The only entrance and exit from the house is through a red door that leads to a quarantine room covered in plastic. Red obviously means death which the door properly symbolizes as the outside is filled with danger and the unknown.
Art/Roman History Teacher
Towards the beginning of the movie, a long and wide rolling shot of a painting received a lot of screen time. The large painting was of a bloody battle and other than its existence, I don’t remember much about it.
After Stanley, Travis’ dog ran away, a mourning Travis went to his room and passionately drew black figures that gave off a sense of terror and hopelessness.
In his conversation over whiskey with Will, Paul also revealed that he was a history teacher who was an expert on the Roman Empire. In a movie where so little back story is given both the painting and the Roman Empire knowledge have to be intentional revelations by Shults. I just have no idea what connection they have, I have searched the internet and Reddit for theories but I all found were complaints and basement dweller millennial nonsense with no mention of either.
The circumstances surrounding Travis are the most mysterious. It was established early in the movie that he suffers from insomnia and when he does sleep he experiences terrible dreams. He is just 17 years old in the movie leaving him in the awkward limbo stage between child and adult which is further intensified in the post-apocalyptic conditions.
The event that set up the climax of the movie was Travis awaking from a nightmare and wandering the house as he is known to do. In his late night travels he saw Andrew, the little boy, having a nightmare sleeping in the grandfathers room on the floor. Travis wakes the boy up and walks him back to his room with Will and Kim by holding his hand.
Just minutes later Travis investigates a sound coming from the red door and quickly wakes up everyone as he assumed an intruder was afoot. Will and Paul open the red door to find Stanley, Travis’s dog who had ran off the day before, sick and gravely wounded.
Who let the dog in the house? Was it young Andrew sleeping walking? Why was Andrew showing signs of sickness? Did Andrew get Travis sick when he walked him back to his room or did Travis get Andrew sick? Was Travis sick the entire movie and were the horrifying nightmares that he experienced not nightmares at all?
The title of the movie, It Comes at Night, has to be a reference to the nightmares (or sickness induced episodes) that Travis suffers. Will and who ever let Stanley into the quarantine room also happened at night.
Mystery also surrounded Will throughout the entire movie. Paul put him through a lot to ensure he wasn’t sick and to gain his trust. In his initial interrogation of Will, he stated that he had a brother who died. Later in the movie when Paul and Will are sharing a drink the day Stanley ran away, Will stated he was an only child and made up a story about his brother in law when Paul called him out on it.
When Paul and Will left to get Wills family they were ambushed by two men just a few miles into their journey down the road from Paul’s home. After killing one man Paul stood and watched Will beat the shit out of the second. Once Will stopped beating him, Paul shot and killed the man. Will’s first reaction was to get angry at Paul and ask why he killed him. This reaction was suspicious and lead Paul to believe Will knew them, which Will denied.
Paul never fully trusted Will even after living and working with him for several weeks. The untrusting was more than just Paul trying to protect his family, he had real paranoia that led to a brutal scene in the third act.
Paul Killing Will and his family
Once Will figured out Andrew was sick (or was he? It was never confirmed but Will didn’t let Paul take a look at Andrew) Will wanted to leave with his family with supplies. Paul and Sarah didn’t like this idea as the believed Will would come back possibly with a crew of people when their supplies ran out. They couldn’t leave and they were suspicious of Andrew being sick.
After a Mexican standoff of sorts, Kim while holding Andrew ran outside after Paul and Sarah apprehended Will. After breaking loose from his captives with his hands still bound, Will began beating the shit out of Paul. In a frantic state, Sarah shot and killed Will. Paul recovered grabbed the gun, shot Andrew who was in the arms of the fleeing Kim, and then after Kim screamed in agony at the death of her family demanded Paul to kill her. Paul reluctantly obliged, ending the massacre. What a fucking brutal and hard to watch scene.
Was the family sick or was Paul’s paranoia the real sickness?
Travis fell ill after witnesses the triple murder and went into a state of delirious sickness. The movie ended with an infected Paul and Sarah staring at each other in silence while sitting at the kitchen table.
I was on edge and anxious throughout the entire duration of the movie. That thrilling nature combined with the open ended conclusion resulted in my friend and I satisfied and led to a discussion of theories in the parking lot. It Comes at Night is a unique and cryptic psychological thriller that is more chilling in its unknown than in its violence and death.