Ambiguity, confusion result in psychological horrors

As a budding horror movie fan, I tend to judge movies by their covers. I look at movie posters, and if the poster entices me, or if I’ve heard good things about the movie, I usually sit down and watch it. It Comes At Night was a different story for me, as I had never heard of it and had pretty much zero knowledge as to what it was about. All I knew was the title, and from that I inferred that somewhere, at some time, something would appear, probably in the evening or at night. Surprisingly, I was wrong.

Full disclosure: something did come at night, and that thing did affect the characters in the movie, but it only happened once. Needless to say, this article contains major spoilers, which I implore you not to read if you haven’t seen the movie.

It Comes At Night is set in a post-apocalyptic America, with survivors of an unknown great plague isolating themselves from others in an effort to avoid contamination and death. Not much is known about the disease, except that it shows no symptoms at first but then quickly and unavoidably kills its host while remaining lethally contagious. The movie follows a man, Paul, living with his wife Sarah, son Travis, and father-in-law Bud, in the secluded countryside trying to survive on his own and protect his family. In the very first scene of the movie, Bud is shown to have contracted the disease and is killed and buried by Paul. Travis becomes haunted by nightmares of his grandfather’s death, as the family now knows what the virus does to people and must carefully interact with others around them. After his death, a stranger, Will, breaks into the family’s house and, after some time, ends up living within and bringing his family over. The movie picks up pace when it is revealed that one of the people in the house is infected, and they must figure out a way to all survive.

The premise of the movie is simple enough, but in my opinion, the execution with which it is done is amazing. The audience only ever knows the bare minimum in order to understand the field; nothing more, nothing less. They are forced to form their own opinions and come to their own conclusions as to what really happened, and who in fact is or is not infected. We, as viewers, never know what started the disease, or if it is curable. We don’t even know where the movie truly is set; it can be inferred that is it America but the specific location is intentionally left out. The ending itself is also laced in ambiguity. I won’t go into detail on it, but there is no correct interpretation of what happened to the family, only what the future holds for them.

If you’re looking for an atypical horror movie, one that looks to unnerve the viewer rather than one reliant on cheap jump scares for thrills, I’d highly reccomend It Comes At Night. It blends psychological horror with suspense and a feeling of being in the dark, all of which leads to a great movie.