The Red Death Held Illimitable Dominion Over All

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Title: It Comes At Night

Rating: 4 Stars

I’ve noticed something interesting about this film. According to rotten tomatoes, the critics are highly favorable. Top critics give it an 88 rating. However, the audience score is exactly half of that (44).

I think I understand why (or at least a working hypothesis). It’s marketed as a post apocalyptic horror movie. It’s never explained, but apparently some kind of contagion has pretty much wiped out, at least the local population, if not global.

This puts you immediately in mind of The Walking Dead. You think of a plucky group of survivors desperately trying to fight off zombies as they try to find a place to survive. This is nothing like that, so if the audience is expecting something along those lines, they will be disappointed.

However, critics see a shitload of films every year. After a while, I’d think that you’d get sick of the same formulas. This is not a typical horror film, so I’d imagine that the critics would breathe a sigh of relief at the attempt of trying to bring something new to the genre.

Be that as it may, I enjoyed it. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so the fact that it was way more psychological than horrifying made the film more satisfying to myself.

The basic plot (discovered via very little disposition) is that some kind of highly contagious infection is raging through the area. As I’ve mentioned above, it’s not known if it’s local, national, or global. It’s clear that not even the characters themselves know how widespread it is.

Regardless, a husband, wife, and teenage son (Paul, Sarah, and Travis, respectively) are now holed up in a highly secure house in the wilderness. They’ve just buried Sarah’s father, who has died of the plague. Shortly thereafter, a man (Will) tries to break into their house. The family captures him and ties him to a tree to see if he’s contagious.

After determining that he’s clean, Will explains that he has a wife and young child (Kim and Andrew) that are at a house some distance away. They have food but are desperately short of water.

Paul’s family has water but do not have any fresh food. After discussing it, Paul and Sarah decide to let Will and his family to live with them.

They do so, and for a short while, all is happy. Clearly, Paul, Sarah, and Travis were unhappy and going a little stir crazy. Having three new people in the house allows them to share chores, relax, and even have a little bit of fun.

Ultimately, the two families end in conflict. Will’s story does not completely make sense. Travis hears strange sounds outside. Andrew might be infected. All of this ends up with conflict between the two families. Suffice it to say that there is not a happy ending.

This was produced by A24, which also made The Witch. This has a similar feel to that film. You have a family, independent and isolated, trying to make do in a harsh wilderness. You have an outside otherworldly kind of force that may or may not exist, trying to destroy them.

Horror movies are pretty much always dark places. With this film, it’s even darker. Most of the action takes place inside. The house is completely boarded up, so there is no natural light. The film ends up feeling claustrophobic. Since the film gives no indication of the circumstances that brought the world to this end, you find yourself getting caught up into the claustrophobia yourself.

This is very much a minimalist kind of film. There’s only a couple of settings. There are very few wide shots. There are really only five characters who have any lines at all. This minimalism is used to nice effect. It does feel like the world is winding down or dying off.

You sense the paranoia that must build up between families awkwardly trying to coexist. They hide guns from one another. They try to catch each other up in lies. On the one hand, they are codependent. On the other, you get the sense that one false move will destroy the equilibrium of the relationship and it will quickly devolve to violent death.

So, despite the fact that this is a dystopian world in which the dystopia is never defined, that this is a tense psychological battle in which the truth is never truly discovered, and it appears by the end that the world will end grimly and quietly, I still found the movie enjoyable.

It stayed true to its nature and followed its course come what may. With no compromise in vision and no tacked on happy ending, I found it to be a rewarding experience.

In case you’re wondering about the title of the post, it’s the last line from Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. In the short story, there is a plague rampaging. With little regard to those suffering, Prince Prospero walls off an abbey so that and his noble friends can be safe. It does not work. Death cannot be held back using locks and walls.

Paul here shares the same conceit as the Prince. If only he can make his house secure enough and if he can make the brutal, hard choices that he knows that he must, then he can protect his family. By the end of the film, as with the Prince, he understands the futility of his actions.

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