Plot convenience is something movies often struggle with. A writer sometimes has a scene, situation, or set piece in mind and tries to get to that point in the most seamless way possible. Unfortunately, that can give rise to some conveniences that are needed to get from one point to another. It is up to the audiences to decide if that is something, they are willing to overlook. Are they invested enough to not be bothered by how they got there or was it just poor writing?
A great example being the writers of Avengers Endgame admitting that it didn’t make sense for Steve Rogers to pick up Thor’s Hammer. But the scene was too good to be passed on and they know after years of emotionally being invested, fans aren’t going to care if they bent the rules a little. Especially when it was done so well. It Comes at Night (2017) expects far too much investment and suspension of disbelief from its audience than it probably deserves.
This movie, unfortunately, forgets the rules it establishes in the first 20 minutes, and the result isn’t good enough to overlook that. There is a point in the movie where the poop hits the fan and how that happens doesn’t align with what was established earlier on. There are no hints about what could’ve happened, and it is left aside for the sake of “ambiguity”. Using ambiguity to push your plot forward and contradict yourself just screams a lack of planning and clarity. Viewers are just expected to accept what happened. There isn’t even a logical hint let alone an explanation of how everything goes bad so quickly.
With that out of the way, the movie does have a lot that works well. The performances by everyone on screen are amazing and are thoroughly convincing. The cinematography (special emphasis on lighting) is haunting at every moment. The movie achieves some beautiful but unsettling frames with very low lighting and a darker color palette. The background score is tense and gripping, working very well with jump scares in the movie. But probably my favorite element is the dialogue. The dialogue is always relatable and convincing. I don’t think there was a single line in the movie that felt like exposition. A lot of this is because the movie isn’t interested in explaining much and that feels like a wise decision.
For most of its runtime, the movie wants to talk about how the loss of humanity in such situations, is the actual enemy rather than the outbreak. The survivalist nature of man could cast aside feelings of empathy, trust, and bonding beyond blood. This brings in a very interesting dynamic, but the movie somehow decides to steer away from that in the end. The climax in the film again comes down to the virus and just shies away from something special. I’m inclined to believe there was a lot going on in the writer’s mind. Sadly, just some of it translated well in the 100-minute runtime.
It Comes at Night (2017) is a beautifully shot, well-acted but poorly written survival horror story that feels best when taken at face value. It is ambiguous for the wrong reasons and could’ve been something truly special if planned better.
Watch Chris Stuckmann talk about the movie, here.