A late look at It Comes at Night

Every week at work, typically on Thursday mornings, my team will hold meetings. At the end, one person will share something, something that is personally inspiring has been the theme lately. I shared this. It takes about a minute for the point to be made, but you’ll know when Wallace gets there. It’s incredibly serendipitous that I shared this video, and i’ll get to more on that later.

I had dinner with my family that night (6/9/2017) after being around people all day, which is surprising for me. I would normally just go home to my dog and breathe in the sweet air of seclusion. But tonight was different, the newest A24 offering was hitting the theaters near me. I cleared the table, ran to my place and grabbed $20 because that’s how much a movie and a drink nearly totals these days, and I went to go see a horror flick by my damn self.

This isn’t going to be a review, and i’ll try to avoid a synopsis. It is simply just me rambling on about how It Comes at Night has stuck with me months after I left our area’s sticky-floored movie theater. Here goes.

At it’s core, the film is a horror/thriller with typical horror/thriller story devices. A family in a secluded area, nobody is around due to some undisclosed event that seems to be apocalyptic in nature… but that’s where things start to get tricky. First thoughts from the initial teaser would be a virus of sorts, this is in part thanks to the prominent placement and visual of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1562 painting, The Triumph of Death, which is a fairly troubling depiction of the Black Death. Second thoughts that followed were that of a monster. Perhaps a zombie, or a big radioactive woodland beast that the dog was trying to communicate with. But…

Here’s where you turn around if you haven’t seen it and plan to.

This movie is so far from being about a tangible monster, or anything of the like. That’s what made this movie for me. Monster flicks fill seats and arguably make the most money, and I saw that when I walked into the theater. People were there to see a monster showdown, and A24 is clever as hell to not disclose antagonists in trailers. Yes, people were upset at the end, but it caused people to actually engage in the story rather than just check-out and collectively fetishize the act of a zombie getting picked-off long range by the handsome sharpshooting leader of the group.

The film took those tropes, marketed it in a way that made it seem like a traditional horror flick with fancier cinematography, and just pulled the rug right from under everyone in the best ways possible. So now the film is a horror/thriller that is seeped in obligations of established morality and violence, two ideas that shouldn’t go hand-in-hand but compliment one another well. As well as underlying themes of paranoia, distrust, and maybe a touch of hypochondria.

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 3.47.57 PM
…perhaps with good reason. Screenshot courtesy of A24’s YouTube account.

Morality is a part of human nature. Determining which action is right, and which is wrong. A deadly duality, one that is put right on display throughout the movie expertly. Each character has their own internal battles with morality, and each are in different stages of development. Add to these struggles the use of violence throughout and the aforementioned extra themes that help to justify the violent acts and you’ve got the main enemy of the film; their thoughts, or more specifically, human nature.

Now, back to that video I shared at work. The late David Foster-Wallace talking about David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and how that resonated with him as an admittedly avant-garde writer.  He said something along the lines of, what really great artists do is be entirely themselves. They forget any outside influence from critics, or writers, other directors, and so on and are able to create something that is true and authentic to them and their specific vocabulary. If they stick to that, the outcome of their work will effect the viewers and readers in ways that maybe they didn’t necessarily see as possible. That’s kind of what It Comes at Night did to me. Was it something that we as viewers have never seen before? No, I would say we as viewers have seen work in the same realm as this before, but it was done differently. So why did this stick with me some seven months later?

The director, Trey Edward Shults, and A24’s approach to creating this movie caused it to stick with me. In a society where mass-marketing the shit out of everything is the norm, they took what I see as a laissez-faire approach and just, well, let it do its thing. A cleverly cut trailer with a well placed plague ridden painting and a quick cut of a zombie-like man gave the film a classic horror look in ads but completely tricked the audience into seeing the horror that wasn’t quite visible or ever really tangible. A well written story about the deteriorating effects of fear and the dangers we see that aren’t always there. I left feeling exhausted, thinking about the one true horror: the human psyche. We create the pain and anguish, and take drastic steps to make it real for everyone around us in order to not seem unstable. That created this breakdown in any sense of decency and morality, and caused that one spark of fear to turn into a rampaging virus that spread as quickly as it could until the hosts fell to it.

In a way this was a big summer monster brawl flick. But one that left the theatre I was in in a dull murmur of mixed feelings. We’re the monsters that don’t get marketed very often, and i’m perfectly fine with that.

 

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