10/10 It Comes at Night might have been filmed on a golden reel.
After a zombie-esque plague rips through society, Paul (Joel Edgerton, who also executively produces) lives with his wife and son, Sarah and Travis (Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr.), in an isolated, well-secured cabin. When another survivor, Will (Christopher Abbott), breaks in scavenging for supplies, the family keeps him at arm’s length, but eventually brings him and his own wife and child, Kim and Andrew (Riley Keough and Griffin Robert Faulkner), into their group. Everyone initially gets along, but tensions mount and boil over.
It Comes at Night is the opposite of the modern blockbuster, the answer to everything infuriating about the current Hollywood process. It is literally a zombie apocalypse movie without any zombies. Where summer movies are so focused on impressing with set pieces they sometimes don’t even try to build tension anymore, almost every scene of It Comes at Night is a nail-biter. Where entire movies are made with the exclusive goal of selling more movies, this one is skips over a blockbuster outbreak plot to tell a quiet campfire story about paranoia and tribalism.
It even looks like a campfire story. It’s set in a gloomy wood and uses almost no lighting. When the sun isn’t up, the only sources of light are the lanterns the characters carry, casting them in ghoulish under lighting. The camera floats softly but unflinchingly through the house, giving most of the movie, particularly Travis’ frequent nightmare sequences, an uncomfortable, voyeuristic sensation.
There’s rarely any evidence of a plague outside of these nightmares, and it’s easy to read the movie’s main threat as a shared delusion. This dynamic reinforces It Comes at Night’s central themes — we don’t see the monsters, because the monsters aren’t important. We don’t see the plague, but we do see it dominating Travis’ thoughts.
Viewers aren’t taking to this movie the way critics are, and that makes me damn mad. It Comes at Night arrives in theaters as critically lauded counterprogramming in a summer starving for something, anything that isn’t a monolithic tentpole with an “all audiences” mandate leaving it with the flavor of waterlogged tofu. Blockbuster season has been an absolute disaster so far — six weeks in, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Wonder Woman are the only other critical or commercial success stories.
If you think movies just suck these days, and they really, really do, It Comes at Night is the movie you’ve been waiting for. I can’t fathom what mainstream audiences are disliking about this.
It’s spooky, it’s intense, it’s deeply unsettling and it’s by far the best thing in theaters right now. Make time to go see it.
More critically lauded counterprogramming, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, releases next week.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and a syndicated columnist with the Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.