Thursday, 14 December 2017

Movie Review: It Comes At Night (2017)



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The plot: A mysterious contagion has reduced the world to a barren wasteland. Among the only known survivors are Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who have set up shelter in a secluded house in the woods. They soon come across Will (Christopher Abbott), his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), who stumble across the house and are soon invited in to share it. However, suspicions start to arise between the two families, with the constant fear of one of them being infected, some drastic measures may have to be taken.



Joel Edgerton is one of those actors where, regardless of what production he’s attached to, he always delivers with a solid performance. This film is no exception, as he takes the role of the overprotective father and twists into areas where he is genuinely unsettling… and yet, given the circumstances, he’s a guy you would want on your side. It’s the kind of reluctantly agreeable character that makes for some of the best psychological works. Ejogo channels a similar sense of protection in regards to her family, while also sneaking in elements of fear about what she knows the people around her are capable of. Harrison Jr. is given the bulk of the psychological effects of the scenario to work with, and he definitely gets across that he is terrified of that scenario and what it could end up doing to him. Abbott and Keough both pull through as the other family in the equation, managing some truly warm and natural interactions with the others while still holding a certain amount of apprehension in their presences, both in their reaction to their surroundings and their surroundings reacting to them. David Pendleton as Sarah’s father makes for a very harrowing performance early on, keeping the worst case scenario well in the audience’s mind as we see the fearful interactions throughout. Between the performance and the practical effects to show the effects of the plague, this is not a fate to be welcomed and it makes what happens after grip even harder.

In the face of a disease that could wipe out everyone you hold dear, isolation starts to look like a really good idea. In the face of what isolation can do to the human mind, as shown in Travis’ increasingly bleak nightmares, it helps to have others around you. When these two notions intersect, the brain simply isn’t capable of processing both at once. As a result, what we get here is a collection of people who both know that infection is a death sentence, but that it will be a lonely time on death row if they only keep to themselves. That sense of paranoia permeates pretty much everything we see, and it hits even harder when it comes to what we don’t see. Psychological horror is at its best when it’s kept vague; when threats are clearly evident in the story but both the characters and the audience are never absolutely clear on what those threats are. Not that paranoia is the only thing on offer as, when we see the two families interact with each other, we see them connect over ultimately basic things. Things like favourite foods, whether someone needs to take a shower, or talking about one’s family. When the end of the world arrives, all of the conveniences we take for granted will likely end with it. In that state, we’ll probably end up going back to a more basic lifestyle, one dedicated to the bare essentials for living. Of course, when in that position, you start to really appreciate what you have left. The scarce bits of food you can scavenge, the miracle of running water, the company you keep that you can share some laughs with; it all becomes vital to your existence, and you treat as precious because of that.

It is because of that heightened sense of placed importance that the urge to defend what you have starts to grow. The slightest cough or misplaced word and, suddenly, that person you thought you could trust starts to look far less so. Stories like this with a post-apocalyptic bent to them tend to emphasis the survival of the individual as opposed to the collective; events like this rarely leave a lot of people behind, and those that are either go crazy from the isolation or somehow manage to begin the long process of rebuilding the world again. When it comes to the latter, trust becomes a valued commodity, one that is easy to dole out but far harder to return. As the tensions rise within the house, and distrust continues to grow between the families, we see how these are people who have been pushed into a very dark corner and will fight tooth and nail to get out of it. Of course, when you cling to those around you as much as you do, your intent to protect one’s self starts to become compromised. Sure, those people that we just met look pretty sketchy, but the people already here? There’s no way that there’s anything wrong with us, right? Distrust stretches across Paul and Will’s respective family circles, but they always seem to hand-wave away the possibility that they have already been affected. Before too long, as paranoia gives way to all-out aggression, the families show themselves to be so bent on looking out for themselves and weeding out the infected that they fail to realize that the plague has already hit them. Not the literal plague of the story, but a figurative one of the mind, one that reduces a person to being so distrusting that, before they even realize their own misdeeds, it’s already too late.

All in all, this is an incredibly solid piece of speculative fiction. The acting is outstanding, with Joel Edgerton and Kelvin Harrison Jr. absolutely nailing the psychological carnage created by the setting, the direction and visuals courtesy of director Trey Edward Shults and DOP Drew Daniels make nature at its most docile seem like the most oppressive force in the universe, and the writing highlights a lot of effects of forced isolation, both the appreciation for the smaller things in life as well as the paranoia that someone or something could take them all away. Knowing how doomsday scenarios like this factor into a lot of modern thinking (get into a deep enough conversation about gun rights, and stuff like this will inevitably get brought up to justify certain attitudes), stories like this that show the possible effects can do a lot of good. Thankfully, because of the efficacy of all parties involved, I think this film will indeed do some good. It ranks higher than Jasper Jones, as this ends up showing the darker and more horrific outcomes of being an outsider, whereas that film tended to stick to the sympathetic side of things. However, in terms of pure gut reaction, this still isn’t as affecting as Manchester By The Sea. Make all the statements you wish about Casey Affleck’s real-life actions, and they are certainly disconcerting, but his performance in that film is still the biggest gut punch I’ve gotten out of any film this year.

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