In 2017, It Comes At Night was royally screwed by A24 (the studio behind The Witch, Hereditary, Midsommar, and The Lighthouse) when it issued a horror-packed trailer, lauded soundbites, and released the movie alongside the summer blockbusters. The studio was likely trying to capitalize on the prestige horror wave aimed at adult audiences clamoring for mature horror films (most mainstream wide-release horror films are targeted to teens). Audiences, myself included, hated the movie and walked away incredibly disappointed. Expectations are the death bell of a horror movie experience.
The director, Trey Edward Shults, had previously worked on a stylish, intimate character piece called Krisha, and It Comes at Night follows further down that dark path. It seems Shults set out to make a grounded, atmospheric, psychosis-driven horror movie without conventional horror elements – a sinister drama, perhaps. And just to be clear there are several very frightening moments, and a tense, gruesome sequence.
The story revolves around a highly-infectious viral outbreak that possibly turns people into zombies and this plague decimated a nearby city. That’s it. We know only tidbits about the characters as they treat each other with suspicion and distrust so there’s not much exposition. The rest is an exercise is harrowing paranoia, bleak terror, horrible dreams, and a savage, emotional climax. It’s all presented vaguely but it’s not too difficult to decipher what’s going on.
I’m fortunate to have waited 3 years to revisit this film, and it’s especially timely and almost prescient now during this pandemic when our kind neighbors are met with cautious uncertainty. It Comes at Night is very well-made, exquisitely shot, and effectively ominous. The cast honestly portrays the madness of claustrophobia, the anguish of life-and-death decision-making, and the brutality of scared humans.
It's a shame that I, and so many other horror fans, dismissed this film for not living up to the expectations that A24 set up (The Lodge met a similar fate earlier this year). The studio could have treated It Comes At Night better, promoted it more honestly, and given it a modest rollout to see if audiences responded. Word of mouth with limited availability is a solid, time-tested strategy. Now is the time to revisit this shunned gem and give it another chance. Perhaps my home isolation prompted the new sentiments, but I was surprised at how effective the film is and how genuinely real it feels. The resolution is unequivocally haunting.
Coincidentally, as a result of the way A24 markets its films, I made the decision in 2017 to NEVER watch trailers again, and unsurprisingly, I haven’t had a movie ruined since then (The Invisible Man trailer gave up many of its jawdropping moments). It's tough to avoid them, especially if you watch network TV or subscribe to the cheaper tier of Hulu, but I've embraced an awkward trailer stance (eyes shut tight, finger-plugged ears) to combat terrible marketing.