The old adage “life imitates art” has been around for quite a while. With the pandemic continuing to spread across the planet, the phrase has taken on a new meaning when looked at in the context of contemporary films released in the last decade.
In 2017, now infamous for films of this genre, A24 released It Comes at Night, a harrowing psychological thriller set in a world where the planet is ravaged by an unknown illness. Viewers are brought into the world of couple Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sara (Carmen Ejogo), as well as their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and his grandfather, Sara’s father, Bud (David Pendleton). The family stays in their boarded up home, somewhere deep in the woods.
The opening sequence of the film immediately sets the tone.
The threat of the mysterious disease is made abruptly apparent when Bud is revealed to be sick. The man has lesions on his face and body and a steadily increasing difficulty to breathe. Sporting masks and gloves, Paul and the family take Bud out to the woods to euthanize him and spare themselves any risk of illness themselves. The grief stricken family must then move forward in their pursuit of survival, going through the motions until a stranger, Will (Christopher Abbot), breaks into their home seeking shelter for himself and his family. What unfolds is a mind bending dance of trust, suspicion and desperation.
It Comes at Night joins the ranks of films like Contagion as harrowing cautionary tales for the current state of the world. The thriller is a “worst case” scenario of how chaotic human life can be, posing some extremely interesting questions about humanity and the dichotomy of needed socialization and survival of the fittest. The two families in the film, though seemingly well meaning, are both on the brink of total madness, applying tunnel vision to every decision they make for the sake of their family’s safety.
What makes the film an interesting watch is its all too real world parallels and the slow urgency throughout. Writer and Director Trey Edward Shults expertly guides the cast in convincing, realistic performances. Shults nails their slow to trust interactions, wrapping them in a storyline that continues to heat until it comes to a boil, reflected in the final act through the characters’ desperate and severe actions.
More, the film interestingly applies the use of the unreliable narrator, often using Travis as the point of view at various points during the film. From the start of the story, Travis wakes in cold sweats from nightmares related the incidents he experiences daily. As these dreams consistently creep into his mind, the teen becomes more and more unreliable. The viewer’s ability to decipher fact from fiction, dream from reality, is then rendered nearly obsolete. Not only does this make the film more compelling, but it makes the climax that much more satisfying.
For anyone who may have missed another of A24’s dark and spooky films, It Comes at Night is a must watch. Streaming now on Netflix, the film takes the current state of the world to the biggest of extremes, providing viewers with a new kind of escapism that will remind them that maybe things aren’t so bad; rather, they could certainly be much, much worse.