It Comes at Night


You can’t trust anyone but family

 

In the bright light of day, we can feel like we are in control of the world around us. We have lines of sight towards the clear and present danger, and feel as though we have a fighting chance against whatever comes. We are more confident, perhaps even arrogant about our chances and choices. When the sun goes down, however, something else takes over. Danger seems to lay in wait, and every provision we have made seems suspect.

Confidence and hubris live thrive in the light of day. But fear, division and paranoia? That thrives after sunset.

IT COMES AT NIGHT drops us into a world where an unspecified plague has turned western society into “survival of the fittest”.

We fixate on a family of three; parents Paul and Sarah (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo) and their seventeen-year-old son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison). The family lives in a rather spacious home in the woods, with every window boarded and every door bolted. As we meet them, they are removing Sarah’s father from the home and euthanizing him. Presumably, whatever sickness has infected the world-at-large has affected him beyond treatment.

Soon after, Travis hears sounds coming from the ground floor in the dead of night. The noises are clouded by bleak nightmares, and feelings that he has caught whatever plague took his grandfather. However, his ears are not playing tricks on him: someone or something is, indeed, in the family home.

When Paul draws his weapon and goes to investigate, he discovers a man we will eventually learn is named Will (Christopher Abbott). The man is in-search of food and supplies, and thought the boarded-up home was abandoned. Paul quickly subdues him, and keeps him prisoner outside the safety of the house.

The next evening, Paul begins to believe that Will might not truly be a threat after all. He unties him, and listens to what he has to say. Will again re-states that he was only looking for supplies. He tells of a wife and young son that he is trying to provide for, and that they will soon be worried about him. After a short debate, Paul and Sarah decide to open their doors to Will and his wife, Kim (Riley Keough) along with their infant son.

For the first few nights, all is well – the families get along and suddenly it doesn’t feel like the end of the world.

Soon though, Travis begins to see and hear things again. His nightmares return and strange things begin to happen around the house that threaten its security. Just how fragile is man’s humanity to man when the plague is knocking at the door?

 

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Whether we realize it or not, we are all in that house with those families. With every passing day, we are looking around at more and more of the world and convincing ourselves that it is infected with plague. We are bolting the doors, we are stocking our pantries, we are insulating, and we are isolating.

Just like Paul, we are trying to take care of our own by taking every last precaution. We are forsaking our liberties and our rights, we are bolting our doors, and we are suspicious of all comers. We  treat potential allies as threats, and we are quick to turn on them when it serves our own self-interests. How long can we live like this? How long can we continue to “look out for our own”?

How can one look at the way Will is treated – both when he arrives and when things inevitably go south – and not feel a great deal of empathy. Will and Kim are no less entitled to a shot at survival than Paul and his family. They are just as strong, just as hard-working, and just as human. And yet, in the world of this film just as in our own world, if someone else sees them as a threat, and a drain on resources, they are forced to fend for themselves – if even that.

Eventually, like Paul, we cast some of our own out in the name of “the greater good”, but is that truly something we are prepared to live with?

How long can this continue? How long can we as a species draw tighter and tighter circles around ourselves and say to everyone else “You’re on your own”? What comes at night is a new idea of distrust, a new luxury we can do without, a new idea of what drastic measure we should take and the argument to implement it. These thoughts are true horrors – vicious, monstrous, and inhumane. Like a demon in the shadows, they will lay in wait for us all…ready to pick us off one by one.

This is what the film wants us to think about in its darkest moments. It’s the sickness that the families are trying to evade, and the terror that lurks in the shadows.

While all of these ideas are timely and apt, the trouble with wrapping them in the paper of IT COMES AT NIGHT is that it presents a sale of false goods. Most of those who wander into this wooded area and bolt themselves inside this house will do so thinking they are about to be scared senseless. Audiences will approach this film thinking that they will begin to pray for the sun to rise and dispel whatever it is that “comes at night”. Audiences are not going to approach this film looking for a parable, even if we could all do with one these days.

Had IT COMES AT NIGHT been sold on its merits, the overall reaction to it might be more in line with the power of its message. Since the film plays bait-and-switch, its well-worded-warning will go unheard….and that is a real shame.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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