Thursday, June 15, 2017

It Comes at Night Review

Last summer was a pretty darn good summer when it came to horror films. Not only did "Lights Out," "Don't Breathe," "The Shallows" "The Conjuring 2" all do well at the box office, but they were all pretty good films in my book, with "The Conjuring 2" being the lesser of the bunch in my opinion. All this coming after we knocked it out of the park earlier in the year with "The Witch," a movie that ended up in my top three best movies of 2016. This year we are already off to a solid start as "Get Out" is right up there with "Lights Out" and "Don't Breathe" in terms of quality in my opinion, and I'm on the lower end of the spectrum with that. And if we want to blur the line between horror and thriller, then "Split" is still my favorite movie of the year. So heading into this summer I was ready for a few more horror breakouts, thus I had my eyes on A24's "It Comes at Night," hoping it would deliver. When the critic reviews came in very solid with an 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and weekend projections had the movie around $15 million, I was happy because it appeared that this was going to be the fun, creepy summer horror film that I was hoping for. I just didn't see it as soon as I wanted because my bank account wasn't quite my best friend, so I waited for Tuesday.

This may seem menial, but these details are important. When weekend box office results started to come in, "It Comes at Night" was falling well below expectations as it only grabbed $6 million. This was sparked by an extremely negative audience reaction. Opening day audiences gave the movie a "D" CinemaScore and, despite it's 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the Flixter user score is only 44 percent. This strong negative reaction from regular moviegoers didn't have me worried, but it did have me curious as to what it is that has caused such a polarizing difference between critics and regular moviegoers. I began to theorize in my head as to what this movie was really about and my conclusions going in were that this wasn't your typical horror movie and that there was something that was going to happen in this movie that angered casual audiences and pleased critics who often go in with different expectations that are more analytical as compared to casual horror fans that just want to be scared and don't want to have to think much about it. Thus my expectations shifted completely following the weekend, making me glad that I waited. Thus I can say that I wasn't blindsided by this movie at all. In fact, I was able to really love this movie.

While this 86 percent vs. 44 percent ratio is surprising, I did a bit of digging and realized that this is not uncommon at all when it comes to horror films that I consider to be really good. You see, I'm a fan of horror, but I'm a fan of good horror. That sounds like an obvious statement, but nowadays there are a ton of low budget horror films whose only goal is to make money, thus they sacrifice story and acting in favor of jump scares and gore. And the casual audiences eat it up. But not me. Those types of horror movies I find stupid. I like horror movies that have more depth and thought to them, where acting and storytelling are put at the forefront while scares and blood are there only when it's necessary to support the story being told. They might happen quite often, but they're not necessarily the purpose of the film. Three examples of recent horror films that I personally find excellent because they do things the way I like it are "The Witch," "The Babadook" and "It Follows." And get this. When looking at Rotten Tomatoes, all three of these movies have similar critic/audience ratios as "It Comes at Night." "The Witch": 91 percent vs. 56 percent. "The Babadook": 98 percent vs. 72 percent. "It Follows": 97 percent vs. 65 percent. Suddenly everything makes sense.

After analyzing these factors, I conclude that if you go into "It Comes at Night" expecting a cliche horror film where a family gets trapped in a cabin in the woods and some sort of monster comes in and haunts them, thus providing you with a slew of jump scares, a creepy monster and lots of blood and gore, you're going to walk out hating this movie. Because that's not what this movie is. Even though that's kinda what they advertised in the trailers. A bit of a marketing fail, perhaps, that may have attracted the wrong crowd to the theater. But if you subvert your expectations and prepare for something different and deeper, then there's a lot to love about this film. In fact, the three horror movies previously mentioned follow similar formulas. "The Witch," "The Babadook" and "It Follows" are all fairly deep thematically with a rich story and great acting that completely sell what the writers and directors were going for. I suppose casual audiences walked into each of those movies expecting certain things to happen and when those things didn't happen, they got angry and left a bad review online. I suppose everyone is allowed to have their own personal tastes, but it makes me sad when people completely miss the point of these genius horror films.

Up to this point, I've been doing a lot of talking around this film without even diving into any specifics. That's kind of on purpose because this movie is shrouded with a lot of mystery and suspense that I don't want to spoil, so I feel safe making parallel comparisons and I think "The Witch," "The Babadook" and "It Follows" are three similar movies to "It Comes at Night." If you want a brief summary of what this movie is about, this is about a family living out in the middle of nowhere. There's not a lot of exposition in this film as we don't follow our typical movie arc with a fleshed out beginning, middle and end. We're just kind of thrown into that middle section as we are witnessing the after effects of whatever has happened to the world and this family specifically. We have a father, a mother and a teenage son and all three of them have different approaches to dealing with this and I loved following their individual arcs and how each of them reacts when another family comes walking onto their property unannounced. There are a lot of small, character moments scattered throughout between various combinations of characters that paint a very beautiful, symbolic film that has a lot to say about human nature and how we all respond differently.

If you go in expecting a supernatural horror film, you're not going to get it. If you go in expecting a monster movie, you're not going to get it. If you go in expecting a slasher horror, you're not going to get it. This movie is instead a paranoia horror film. What do you do when you don't know what to do? What if you are put into an unfamiliar place that you are not used to dealing with? How do you react with you think something bad is about to happen, but you have no idea what? What if you are put into a scenario with several strangers and you don't know who to trust? These are the themes these movies tackles and it's our main cast of six individuals who completely buy into this movie and their individual roles that sells this movie. First and foremost of the bunch is Joel Edgerton, who can practically do no wrong at this point as some of his recent films include "The Gift," "Black Mass" and "Loving," the latter of which was one of my favorite performances of last year. And I loved his performance in "It Comes at Night." Another fantastic addition to his resume. But not to be forgotten are Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and even the young Griffin Robert Faulkner. Phenomenal performances!

Yes, unconventional is the word of the day here. But yet when you go into an A24 film, that's something you should come to expect. Other recent movies they've distributed are "Moonlight," "The Lobster," "Swiss Army Man," "Room," "Ex Machina" and the aforementioned "The Witch." They are well-versed in the unconventional. Sometimes it leads to universal praise and Oscar nominations while other times it leads to mixed feelings and controversy. That's the nature of experimental film, though. If you walked out of the movie hating it, I can understand where you are coming from, but I think if you go in with expectations that I've talked about, then I think this is a movie that can be loved, watched and discussed for years to come. If you specifically loved the three horror movies that I have repeatedly referenced, "The Witch," "The Babadook" and "It Follows," and you are confused or disappointed at the negative reaction those movies got from some and you're ready for another unconventional horror film, then I really think you should give "It Comes at Night" a chance. I'm not going to grade it quite as high as "The Witch" and "The Babadook," which are both near perfect horror films in my mind, but this won't be too far behind as I'm giving "It Comes at Night" a 9/10.

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