Someone left that damned door open: It Comes at Night

It Comes at Night  is one of the best horror movies of the last decade.  Somehow it failed to make much of a dent at the box office, despite debuting against the execrable The Mummy re-make. Now it’s made its debut on Netflix, which should give people a second chance to discover this under seen gem of a film. 

It Comes at Night is a sparse, stripped-down horror that leaves a lot to the imagination. It isn’t the type of film that spells things out, or spoonfeeds the audience. You will not be given a clean resolution; this movie isn’t interested in handing you a shiny package tied in a pretty bow. This is no fairy tale, and it has no fairy tale ending. It’s more like a rusty hatchet deployed against the skull; a vague, creepy blast of existential angst that comes at you in a trickle, then slowly builds into a full on water boarding session. This film is an act of terrorism, and it’s writer/director Trey Edward Shults is a terrorist.

The film opens after. After what, we are never really clear on. There is some sort of deadly disease that seems to be highly contagious and fast moving. Is society gone? Maybe.  Our main character, Paul (Joel Edgerton) is living in a boarded up house in the woods with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison).  Sarah’s father has succumbed to the disease and we see him being dispatched and burned by Paul a la a zombie movie.  Travis has to help with this task and later will be haunted by it. He will suffer from nightmare’s of his grandfather transformed into some sort of feral beast.

The action really starts with a break-in to the house. Late at night a man named Will comes through a window into the foyer. Paul knocks him out and ties him up. The next morning Will tells Paul that he has a wife and child holed up in a house. They have food, but have run out of water. Sarah convinces Paul to bring this family back, and to welcome them into the house. Everything will go downhill from there.

The three newcomers are introduced to the house rules. Everyone lives by routine. It doesn’t take long for that routine to develop cracks. In the end, the plot of this movie comes down to who may or may not have left a door open. It’s a red door. The always foreboding red door, always approached by a creeping camera that seems just off level is a major image in this movie. It lays at the end of a narrow, dark hallway with an angled ceiling that just screams claustrophobia.

And that’s a big part of what this movie does. It traps people in a house. That hosue is huge, yet somehow always feels cramped and too small. The house is in a forest, which is expansive yet feels constricting and shadowed.  Closeness breeds dissension. Fear mounts. Distrust of the other, whether it’s the unseen monsters that may or may not haunt the woods, or the child living in your own house, grows into terror and hate.

Although it’s never discussed, and only seen a few times, a medieval painting plays an outsize role in the film.  The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel hangs in the house. It feels akin to something by Bosch, and just seeing it sets one on edge. Is this what the world has become? Is this what we as a species were always headed for? This movie seems to think so.

When things start to really fall apart, it happens fast. One assumes that the actual end of the world, be it due to plague, or climate catastrophe, or nuclear war, will be like that. It’ll probably happen on a Thursday, honestly. These things always happen on a Thursday.  Anyway, whatever cohesion the group had crumbles. Someone left that goddamned door open. Spoiler warning, belatedly I guess: this is the kind of movie where the hero can absolutely murder a child. 

The finale of It Comes at Night is pretty fucking nihilistic. No one gets out alive. Everyone was doomed from the start. No one gets any answers for the questions that have been raised. Nothing matters, LOL. And that’s a pretty good lesson for the current age.

Please, go to Netfilx (or rent it on Amazon, or buy the BluRay, or whatever) and watch this movie. You’ll thank me.   

-Nathan Tyree