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Film / It Comes at Night

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It Comes at Night is a 2017 American Psychological Horror film written and directed by Trey Edward Shults; it is his second feature following his debut film Krisha. The film stars Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr., with Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough in supporting roles.

By the time the film starts, a contagious outbreak has ravaged the world. Paul (Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Ejogo) and their teenage son Travis (Harrison Jr.) have survived by living in isolation in the woods and maintaining a strict code of conduct — certain doors stay locked, and unless it's an utmost emergency, going out at night is strictly forbidden.

However, their stern order is disrupted when a desperate young family arrives at their doorstep seeking refuge — another combination of husband (Abbott), wife (Keough), and son. Despite the best efforts of both families, paranoia and distrust begin to build, leading to complications that put their security and humanity to the test.

The film had its premiere at the Overlook Film Festival in Mount Hood, Oregon on April 29, 2017, and was released on June 9, 2017 in the United States by A24.

Previews: Teaser, Trailer 1.

It Comes at Night provides examples of:

  • After the End: Some sort of apocalypse has swept the world before the film begins, most likely brought on by the sickness the families are trying to avoid catching.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Paul is hoping to achieve this effect when pouring some to Will and having a hearty talk with him.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Many plot points are ultimately Left Hanging.
  • Aspect Ratio Switch: While the regular plot uses 2.40:1, the film's more disturbing visuals are always marked by the frame narrowing, to a subtly claustrophobic effect. The nightmare sequences use 2.75:1, and the finale — where reality and nightmare essentially mesh into one — compresses all the way down to 3.0:1.
  • Badass Bookworm: Paul mentions that he was a history teacher before the outbreak, but looks as if he were born and raised a hardcore survivalist.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: As the family finds out, the only thing worse than your dog running on its own into the woods during The Plague is your dog getting back home.
  • Big "NO!": Kim lets out one after Paul shoots Will, and another much more horrifying one shortly after when he kills Andrew.
  • Body Horror: One side effect of The Plague is dark, ugly welts growing on one's skin.
  • Book Ends: The film starts with Sarah gently talking to Bud in his final moments, later followed by a shot of her with Paul and Travis at the family table. It ends with her doing the same thing with her son, concluding with a shot of only her and Paul.
  • Bound and Gagged: After first being caught trying to break into the main family's home, Will is tied to a tree overnight with duct tape over his mouth and a bag over his head to confirm that he doesn't have the disease.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor, poor Travis. First, he has to see his beloved, dying grandfather get shot and buried. Then, his grandfather's dog, which he vowed to protect, gets sick and dies as well in an unexplained incident. He suffers a series of nightmares and unsettling incidents around the home, and then the family he befriended turns on his own while trying to flee, after which all of them die in quick succession before he too becomes sick and dies.
  • Colorblind Casting: Travis is the son of an African-American mother and Caucasian father, yet is darker and has more pronounced African features than his mother.
  • Covers Always Lie: The poster shows the family dog barking into darkness, clearly implying that the dog is barking at the "it" of the title as it "comes at night." The scene this is taken from occurs during the day, and the title's meaning is never revealed.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Subverted with Paul. He's initially set up to be one of these, but is actually rather reasonable and is Properly Paranoid at worst. In the end, however, he dives into this, as he becomes willing to kill Will’s family to avoid the risk of infection and theft (even when the other family grew too scared to eventually come back), and prioritizes his family’s survival over mercy.
  • Death of a Child: Andrew gets inadvertently shot by Paul, and Travis contracts the illness and dies.
  • Despair Event Horizon: While she's frazzled from Will being shot, Kim crosses it instantaneously after Andrew dies in her arms as she tries to flee. She breaks down into devastating wails of agony and outright screams at Paul to kill her; he gravely complies.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: After running out on his own into the woods, Stanley does eventually return home — dying and sick.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: The family does not go into the woods alone despite retreating to a rural location.
  • Downer Beginning: The film's first few minutes involve Sarah's critically ill father getting mercy-killed by Paul, deeply upsetting the family. The mood never really rises much higher afterwards.
  • Downer Ending: Will, Kim, and Andrew are all killed, Travis succumbs to the virus, and Paul and Sarah end the film infected by the virus themselves and doomed to follow.
  • Dwindling Party: Bud dies in the opening of the film. Then the family dog Stanley dies, then Will, Andrew, and Kim in quick succession before Travis succumbs as well. It's implied that Paul and Sarah will die as well due to being infected.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Stanley can sense something in the woods and barks at it. We never find out what it is, though.
  • Fan Disservice: One of Travis' dreams has Kim, played by Riley Keough, crawling on top of him in her underwear...and then drooling black bile onto his mouth.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Because the audience doesn't know much more about the situation than the characters themselves, it's extremely difficult to judge anyone in the film for what they do. Paul, Will, Sarah, and Kim all seem to want to get along with each other, but there isn't much trust to go around. Only Travis and Andrew seem to be above the conflict.
  • Good-Times Montage: The Time-Passes Montage after Will and his family are welcomed in is probably the brightest part of the whole story. And then, of course, Travis has one of his nightmares.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: See Sound-Only Death below.
  • Hell Is That Noise: One of Travis' nightmares involves getting sick with all the symptoms of The Plague and then realizing a smiling Bud, all covered in blood and drooling some more, is sitting in front of him. As Bud opens his mouth, the sound he makes is something between a gutted animal and a creaking door.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: A standard for the genre. Most of the deaths happen because of humans, mostly Paul.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Paul turns toward the bottle after gunning down Andrew and Kim, all while his own son is sick and dying.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Depending on the situation, characters can drop dead after a single, well-aimed shot or take three and still be alive.
  • Jar Potty: They use buckets at night.
  • Jump Scare: Expect them to happen in nightmares and a lot. There's also an in-universe instance that happens when Travis accidentally sneaks up on Kim.
  • Kill the Cutie: Andrew, and Travis after he suffers through a traumatizing Break The Cutie sequence of events.
  • Left Hanging: It'd be quicker to name what was explained.
    • What does the title of the film mean? There is no obvious "it" nor anything that "comes at night." The only mention of night being dangerous is when Paul states that they never go out at night unless it's necessary.
    • What is the sickness? Where it came from and what it's done to the world are never explained.
    • How did Bud get infected? It's not even clear whether the family knows themselves.
    • What was Stanley barking at? Was he chasing something, and was that the thing that Travis seemed to sense in the trees? Why did he vanish and how did he get infected?
    • Did Travis's nightmares have a deeper meaning, or were they just bad dreams?
    • Why do Travis and Andrew both draw ominous human figures in the forest? Are they bandits allied with the two that Paul and Will kill near their home before finding out whether there are more of them?
    • Did Will's misspoken reference to his brother-in-law mean anything? Will seems a bit rattled when Paul calls him out, suggesting that it's a lie. However, Sarah refers to her own father as "Dad" when speaking to Paul, so there is some precedent for spouses not distinguishing between members of each other's families.
    • How did Stanley return to the house when both doors were locked? Did someone else open it, or was it left unlocked by accident? How did he get infected and die? Who unlocked the door? Why was Andrew sleepwalking and why were his parents so uncomfortable when Travis brought it up — were they worried they were suspected now, or was there something deeper?
    • Was Andrew sick? When Will repeatedly tells him to close his eyes, is this to hide the telltale signs of sickness (established by Paul) or to protect him from witnessing death (as Paul tries to do for Travis). Is this why Kim and Will are leaving abruptly or was it because they knew the other family no longer trusted them, or some other reason?
    • Are Sarah and Paul really infected in the end, or simply in deep grief and depression? Aside looking beaten down, they show no other symptoms.
  • Madness Mantra: "It's okay, it's okay..."
  • Mama Bear: Kim is very protective of Andrew. When he gets killed, she begs Paul to kill her too.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • There may very well be something in the woods, but it's never actually shown, and whatever lives in the woods is a peripheral threat compared to the humans themselves. Something did kill Stanley in the forest and may have taken him back into the house, and Andrew's crayon drawing that's hanging on the wall at the end of the film depicts menacing, faceless figures similar to the ones that Travis drew with charcoal—suggesting something supernatural may be afoot.
    • Travis might be Dreaming of Things to Come or he's simply weary due to paranoia with his nightmares about getting infected. Or even both.
  • Mercy Kill: Paul gives one to Bud at the beginning of the film. At the end, he kills Kim to put her out of her misery after her husband and son are killed in a matter of seconds.
  • Minimalist Cast: There are six speaking roles in the film, and three other humans in the film.
  • Moral Myopia: What runs the inner conflict is the perception that loyalty to your family is all that matters — but the entire plot happens when you put two families following that idea into a single house.
  • Mundane Luxury: A half-empty bottle of whiskey, which is now "like gold".
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The film's poor reception among audiences can be attributed almost exclusively to its marketing. The trailer created an image of a high-octane monster horror, heavily alluding to a concrete, literal "it" that would be coming at night (alongside the posters). However, the truth is that there is no overt monster in the film — the "it" is a metaphor for the human fear and paranoia that would arise in such a post-apocalyptic world.
  • Nightmare Sequence: The film uses them frequently, and they make for most of the disturbing visuals, but as the story keeps going, they are spliced with real events, so not all scenes of Travis walking in the dark are just his dreams.
  • No Antagonist: The characters start becoming hostile towards each other, but they are not doing it for the sake of being evil and are doing it to protect themselves and their loved ones.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Played with. In the thematic sense of the title's "it" representing fear and paranoia, which is closer in line with Shults' intentions, it most certainly does come at night. In the literal sense heavily propagated by the film's marketing of "it" representing an actual monstrous threat, there is no such it.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Stanley barking at nothing (also featured in promotional pictures such as the poster in the main page image) is creepy, as is the camera wandering frequently around the darkened house. Specifically, there is a moment when he barks like mad and then instantly gets silent, without any other sound or sign; in the script, the moment is noted simply as "[Dead Silence]".
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Both Paul and Will are scared shitless this might eventually happen to them. And it does in the end for both of them.
  • Papa Wolf: Paul is fiercely protective of Travis; he only blows up at him for chasing after Stanley because he's scared of something happening to him.
  • The Plague: One seems to have swept over the country, and the film draws parallels to The Black Death by focusing in on a painting of the subject (Bruegel the Elder's Triumph of Death). It's so malignant that it can apparently kill its victims in less than a day. It apparently causes vomiting blood, broken blood vessels in the eyes, skin lesions, weakness, lethargy and death.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Much tension in this movie is based on characters not actually talking to each other, not asking proper questions, and not giving proper answers.
  • Post Apocalyptic Gasmask: They wear gas masks or a handkerchief over the face to avoid catching the disease.
  • Properly Paranoid: Paul's going through extensive list of tasks and safety measures, but this is literally what keeps him and his family alive. Him being against bringing outsiders turns out to be the correct decision.
  • Random Events Plot: While the main characters' reactions to events make perfect sense, so much of the story behind why certain events happen is Left Hanging that it can seem this way.
  • Shoot the Dog: Paul shoots and kills Travis' dog, Stanley, after he contracts the virus.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Paul does everything he can to prevent his family from being infected, even if it means killing Will, Kim, and Andrew. However, despite all of this, he and his family are infected with the disease anyways with Travis ultimately dying.
  • Sound-Only Death: Andrew and Kim's deaths at the hands of Paul's rifle take place offscreen.
  • Sweet Tooth: Kim absolutely loves candy and desserts and used to pig out on them as her favorite way of dealing with sleepless nights. Travis is an aversion — he just doesn't like sweet taste in general, but also is aware how weird it is.
  • Tap on the Head: Paul hits Will in the head with the butt of his gun, knocking him out... until well after sunrise, and Will has clearly cut skin on his head.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Predictably, Will and Kim go against Paul and his family when things start to fall apart. Then again, Paul and Sarah were preparing to gun them down in cold blood if any of them was sick, so...
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Will gives one to Paul after the latter shoots the pair of survivors trying to rob their truck, arguing that they could have gotten information from them in case there were more of them. Paul looks somewhat affected when he buries them to find that they appeared to be father and son.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Paul shoots and kills Andrew, a young child. While he was aiming his shot at Kim, that still leaves a question what he would do with the boy, who's presumably infected and with both of his parents dead.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Will feigns being more injured at the end to get the drop on Paul and nearly beats him to death before Sarah shoots him.