It Was All A Dream Or So It Seemed (‘It Comes At Night’)

Dream Factory, as I’ve stated in a previous column, started during my UCLA Bruin days and centered on my obsession with cinema. Twenty three years later, my rotund, balding self is grasping at straws (or in my case, another slice of pizza), but the goal of the column is to discuss movies that have really embedded themselves in my itty bitty brain. This week that feature is It Comes At Night.

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Kelvin Harrison Jr., Carmen Ejogo, Griffin Robert Faulkner in “It Comes At Night.”
Credit: Photo by Eric McNatt, courtesy of A24

I checked the flick out two weeks ago at a Beverly Hills screening room, and since these days going out at night is a big deal (I’m a full time nanny for my niece), I was expecting a classic. The riveting trailer was filled with psychological thriller/horror goodness, promising viewers a scary and unnerving experience. 

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Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott in “It Comes At Night.”
Credit: Photo by Eric McNatt, courtesy of A24

The picture, directed and penned by Trey Edward Shults, centers on Paul (Joel Edgerton), a man who lives out in a boarded up house in the woods with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). A mysterious disease/plague is seemingly wiping out humanity, and Paul is understandably taking survivalist measures to protect his family. When a stranger named Will (Christopher Abbott) crosses their path, he’s initially perceived as an enemy but after divulging that he has a family of his own (Riley Keough is Will’s wife and Griffin Robert Faulkner is their young son), Paul decides to take them in and pool their resources together.

My initial frustration with It Comes At Night comes from Shults’ decision to leave a plethora of narrative threads hanging. The story doesn’t offer up any easy answers or tie everything with a neat little bow. Instead, it’s up to us to interpret the events (some of which are a blend of nightmarish fantasy and reality) on our own and come to our own conclusions. Before penning this post, I spent 20 minutes with a Starbucks barista (and friend) discussing the film’s merits and perceived flaws (he wasn’t enamored by the film, and had the gall to say The Mummy was a more entertaining experience!).

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Riley Keough & Griffin Robert Faulkner in “It Comes At Night.”
Credit: Photo by Eric McNatt, courtesy of A24

My friend’s complaints about the film were completely valid, as this film has received its share of divisive reactions. Although my initial reaction to the film was of sheer disappointment (I felt Shults was throwing us 91 minutes of foreplay sans the sex), It Comes At Night, two weeks after the fact, continues to populate my head space.

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Christopher Abbott in “It Comes At Night.” Credit: Photo by Eric McNatt, courtesy of A24

Christopher Abbott is that rare actor with presence. He immediately draws you in (I still have to check out James White) and I’ll be surprised if he’s not a bigger known “name” in the coming years. Edgerton, whose everyman quality reminds me of Glenn Ford’s versatility, is always solid. I wish Keough (American Honey) and Ejogo (Born to Be Blue) had more scenes in the flick, as they’re both dependable and talented actors who’ve done great work.

With such a talented ensemble, the person who absolutely threw me for a loop was Kelvin Harrison Jr. (he delivered the film’s most subtly effective performance). Travis is actually the most perplexing character of the story, as we get hints about his persona and motivations, but the mystery remains. Torn apart by losing his grandfather to this dreaded disease, Travis desperately clings to his loved ones. HIs co-dependence, however, doesn’t mean he follows his father and mother’s every command. There’s a red door that shouldn’t be opened during the dead of night (the family does most of their hunting and chore work during sunlight), but Travis may have actually been a bit too curious for his own good.

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Kelvin Harrison Jr. & Riley Keough in “It Comes At Night.” Credit: Photo by Eric McNatt, courtesy of A24

He’s also a talented artist, but his morbid artwork possibly serves as a portent of the deaths to come. Harrison Jr. handles all of Travis’ insecurities and curiosities with a deft approach, and although he serves as our eyes and ears for much of the movie, he’s a talented enough actor to keep us guessing. Neither Harrison Jr. or Shults overplay their hand with Travis, and that lack of showiness actually kept me riveted through the film’s climax. 

Although It Comes At Night’s exploration of immigration  is the biggest thematic takeaway of the film, Travis’ coming-of-age journey is the story’s most compelling aspect. Under a lesser filmmaker’s hands, It Comes At Night would have ended with an obligatory voiceover from Travis, reflecting on the horrors that befell the world but how that experience shaped him to become the man that he is today.

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Kelvin Harrison Jr. in “It Comes At Night.” Credit: Photo by Eric McNatt, courtesy of A24

It Comes At Night doesn’t give us pat endings or happily ever afters. Maybe family is all we ever have in this world, and hugging your flesh and blood tighter than ever may be necessary in these trying times. But self-survival is a tricky thing, because that darkness may never go away, even if that red door remains shut.

****It Comes At Night is now playing in select theaters. If you’ve seen the flick please offer up your comments below!!

Randoms:

  • I’m giving away my Criterion Blu-ray copy of Ghost World (I do weekly giveaways for CinemAddicts, a podcast I co-host with Anderson Cowan). Contest ends Monday, June 12. For details, check out my post on CinemAddicts.
  • The goal for Dream Factory is to do weekly takes on films that I’m obsessed with – so I’ll be covering old and new films. I know “Dream Factory” should best be housed on my other site Deepest Dream, but I’m in a more Charles Mingus state of mind whenever I’m doing Find Your Seen stuff (yeah – I have no idea what that means).
  • I have a crippling fear/insecurity regarding the glut of quality “television” that’s out now, and I am eons behind the average TV viewer. That being said, I’m heading to a Stranger Things waffle breakfast / Q&A this weekend (I’m going to try and watch the first episode before attending the event). If you have any thoughts on the show – I’d love to hear them as well (the more info the better!!).