[Screen It]


(2017) (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo) (R)

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Horror: A husband, wife and their teenage son welcome another family into their fortressed home but become increasingly concerned that they might pose a risk in the post-apocalyptic world in which they now all live.
Paul (JOEL EDGERTON), Sarah (CARMEN EJOGO) and their 17-year-old son, Travis (KELVIN HARRISON JR.), live in a remote house out in the woods of New York. Having just put Sarah's father, Bud (DAVID PENDLETON), out of his misery of being infected by a deadly virus that sickened him and apparently is the cause of an apocalyptic event that's seemingly affected the rest of the world, the family hunkers back down in their house that's been fortified with only one way in and out to prevent other infected people -- who apparently only arrive at night -- from getting to them.

Their worst fears are confirmed when they hear and then catch Will (CHRISTOPHER ABBOTT) breaking into their place. He claims he thought the house was abandoned and is simply looking for water and other supplies to help him and his family survive. Paul is understandably suspicious and keeps Will tied to a tree for a few days to see if he shows any signs of the illness. When none show, he releases him and reluctantly agrees with Sarah that they must help Will and his family. That eventually results in the two men retrieving Will's wife, Kim (RILEY KEOUGH), and their toddler son, Andrew (GRIFFIN ROBERT FAULKNER), and returning to Paul and Sarah's house.

From that point on, and as Travis experiences odd and troubling nightmares, the two families try to get along and stay alive, all with the constant worry that the outside contagion might find or have already found its way inside the house.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
In today's technology-laden world, it's hard to imagine any scenario where some event remains in the dark, hidden from all other than those immediately affected by it. Of course, that's how things worked back in the old days when it could take days for such news to spread to nearby towns and weeks or longer to travel further than that.

Nowadays, it's common not only to hear about some incident -- nearby or half-way around the globe -- but also see pictures, video and even live broadcast streaming from said event. While that can lead to misrepresentation of what's happened along with speculation and rumors, it does provide people -- those directly affected as well as friends, family and simply curious or nervous observers -- with information. And just like most every other aspect of everyday life, that's important to keep people informed and in the loop.

Of course, when such information technology is intermittent or down altogether, people who've become addicted to instantaneous news -- be that on the Internet, local or national TV or the radio -- panic or let their imagination and fears run amok, thus leading to decisions that are impulsive rather than information based. And with the reptilian, survival instinct parts of people's brains taking over, that can turn otherwise civilized people into something quite different.

That plays out in the psychological horror thriller "It Comes At Night" where some sort of apocalyptic event has eliminated all communications technology outside of primitive word of mouth. What happened is never explained or explored. Instead, writer/director Trey Edward Shults simply focuses on a small family trying to survive in a world where strangers infected with some sort of contagious and deadly disease might show up between dusk and dawn.

The flick begins with a literal and figurative bang as a married couple (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo) along with their 17-year-old son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) say goodbye to the wife's father, an older man sporting some nasty looking boils, lesions or similar. Wearing gas masks and gloves, the patriarch wheels his father-in-law out to the woods in a wheelbarrow, places him next to a shallow grave, puts a pillow over his head and executes him, followed by burning the body presumably to stop the spread of whatever the root cause of their malady might be (or maybe to keep him from becoming a zombie of some sort).

In any event, the family trio returns to their home, locks the only entrance to their house in the woods, and must then contend with a stranger breaking in. Will (Christopher Abbott) states he's just looking for water and supplies for his family (Riley Keough as his wife and Griffin Robert Faulkner as their toddler son), but Paul doesn't believe him and thus knocks him out, ties him to a tree, and waits to see if he shows signs of the infection.

When he seems to be "safe," Paul then agrees to "we need to be good people" pressure from his family and sets off to retrieve Will's wife and boy, return them to their place, and create a mini-commune of sorts. Of course, things unravel, suspicions are aroused, and everything goes downhill from there.

Beyond being a grim, downer of a movie in general, I ended up being distracted by various nitpicky issues that bothered me throughout much of the flick. And most of that, tying into what was previously discussed, comes from a lack of communication on Shults' part to give us enough info to suspend our disbelief.

I'm fine with not knowing anything about what apocalyptic event triggered all of this, or what exactly the virus is and how it works. But having the opening scene featuring the family members doing the biohazard thing with the infected grandfather only to then inhabit the same space and seemingly not worry didn't work for me. A quick script remedy would have been to feature a decontamination scene or simply a few lines of dialogue about making sure that occurred.

And for a patriarch concerned about protecting his family and keeping the "bad guys" out, simply having two doors wouldn't cut it, including having nothing more than the knob lock and a cheap looking slide bolt on the interior door. If every other way in has been boarded up and secured, why isn't the door as tight as the entrance to Fort Knox? And in that same vein, why would this ultra-security-minded father allow strangers to enter his house in general, but also without testing them for any signs of the virus?

I understand that the father isn't a perfect movie hero sort of guy unlike, say, Will Smith's character in "I Am Legend," a far superior film in terms of story and ratcheting up both fear and interest in what's going to unfold. Thus, I'm okay that he's prone to make some mistakes, but when it comes to life and death and seemingly plenty of time to ponder how to avoid the latter and preserve the former, no amount of moral quandary about not helping others in need would come into play. Again, some simple script tweaks could have remedied those and other similar problems, while I would have liked to have seen more of a growing and potentially dangerous paranoia among all involved than what's present.

And I'm also sometimes okay with downer films if they're brilliant in their execution of said depressing material and/or if they touch on the related thematic elements in a new, fresh or interesting way. "It Comes at Night" is okay, but doesn't excel on either front, and I believe some are confusing its nebulous quality of providing little if any details as terrific filmmaking.

In the end, and in a world that's become increasingly bleak, why would anyone want to watch a similarly bleak film? This offering doesn't provide enough convincing answers to that question, and without something to make it truly stand out from the crowd of post-apocalyptic films, it rates no better than average -- a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 1, 2017 / Posted June 9, 2017

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