From the moment I saw the first trailer, I was anxiously awaiting the release of It Comes at Night. My main reasoning being that it’s a horror movie from A24, and pretty much everything they’ve touched in recent memory (Moonlight (2016), Green Room (2015), The Witch (2015), The Lobster (2015)) has been gold. The trailers promised an eerie atmosphere, an isolated group of survivors, a diverse cast, and some decent scares. And honestly the film delivered on all of these expectations, but kind of offered nothing more. Maybe my hopes were too high, but I found it to be a slow-building thriller with no real payoff, adept at creating suspense but never providing a release.
After an unspecified outbreak of a highly contagious and deadly disease, a family of three holes up in a wooded house, cut off from what’s left of the world. Paul (Joel Edgerton) goes to great lengths, running a tight ship to keep his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) safe and uninfected. When they overcome their distrust of outsiders to help Will (Christopher Abbott) in exchange for a supply of food and water, they risk the sanctity of their isolated home.
Unfortunately, despite this promising setup, the plot itself feels jerky and never quite seems to find its stride. More than once I found myself thinking that a scene was setting up some part of the story further down the line, but nothing would come of it. We are consistently treated to a few minutes of high tension followed by twenty or so minutes of characters basically sitting around looking at each other. Every time we feel like the plot’s about to pick up, we cut to another silent, pensive scene, which makes this 91-minute film feel like 2-and-a-half hours.
It Comes at Night is at its best when creating atmospheric tension and building suspense, and keeps you invested long enough to be disappointed by the lack of development in the end. Much in the same way as The Shining (1980), the camera in It Comes at Night acts as a lurking presence; always inching forward or backward and lingering for longer than is comfortable. The minimal dialogue and eerie, droning score punctuate this atmosphere, creating an overwhelming sense of dread. And thanks to the film’s cold opening, we know from the start the true severity of the disease, but are left in the dark about what else could be out there.
The impeccable camerawork, (including a use of dissolves that also reminded me of The Shining), as well as the A+ cast may very well make this a worthwhile watch if you’ve got enough patience. But I found it to be a disappointing product of a wealth of potential.