Character: IT COMES AT NIGHT

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IT COMES AT NIGHT is a very pleasant surprise. It uses spare dialog and a smoothly-moving camera to tell the simple story of a family living in isolation in the woods after a virus has swept the planet. Without jump scares, we are dropped into the nightmares experienced by Trey, a 17-year-old boy whose only friend is his dog. Since dogs in post-apocalyptic movies are as safe as an unoccupied motorized scooter at Wal-Mart we know the dog’s death is guaranteed.

What happens when a looter shows up at the house is told from Try’s point of view. The recurring image of the camera moving toward the house’s only door, the only way out of the house, manages to set up the grim atmosphere for what turns out to be the major events of Trey’s life.

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All of the acting here is perfectly convincing, but Kelvin Harrions, Jr.’s Trey connects with the viewer almost entirely through his facial expressions. There are no long speeches about what he has lost or how he feels; he’s like most teenagers who keep to themselves. The arrival of a woman in his world shocks Trey out of his bubble, but as with everything in ICAN it’s just there, not underlined for slow viewers. Kelvin Harrison, Jr.

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The movie is an intimate apocalypse, like TESTAMENT or CARRIERS, about a few people living the way most of us would in this sort of world–not with cars and all the guns we want, but just hunkering down and trying to endure. It could be happening in the same world as THE ROAD. There are few scares, few special effects and no big-scale action scenes. It doesn’t need them: Regular people we’ve gotten to know trying to deal with insane shit like an elderly parent needing to be put out of his misery is more dramatic than a bunch of cars exploding.

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The photography by Drew Daniels uses a gliding camera to create an elegiac feeling to the exteriors. The aspect ratio changes during the film to indicate the dream sequences, and then narrows during the climax. I didn’t know any of this until I looked at the extras, but I did notice when the image went to 3:1, because suddenly it was like looking through an actual mail slot.

I was not surprised to see this got high marks from critics, but very low ones from viewers. It’s completely gripping, and I’m afraid a Hollywood version would’ve had jump scares and action scenes every 20 minutes. This is closer in tone to something like THE WITCH which it resembles only in having a family in the woods being the focus. A slow but never boring character story, IT COMES AT NIGHT will gain a following over time like another box office failure, SESSION 9.

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