It Comes At Night – Review

by Ren Zelen

(Possible Spoilers in Review) 

Deceptively titled and oddly mis-marketed as a horror movie, Trey Edward Shults’s second feature It Comes at Night might much more appropriately be viewed as a ‘post-apocalyptic psychological family drama’.

I’m often loath to place a movie under a genre classification, because certain movies might straddle several genres and don’t easily fit into pigeonholes. However, if you go to see It Comes at Night expecting a conventional horror film, you will be disappointed… or perhaps you’ll be surprised.

Shults sets his film in a vacuum – a cataclysmic event has occurred, what this might have been remains a mystery, but some kind of deadly, pustular contagion is one result. The virus may be in the air, as gas masks are often worn as a precaution, but it is certainly contagious and contaminated bodies are immediately burned.

There is no information as to where this virus came from or how civilization has been affected or what still remains. There are no amenities such as electricity or a water supply, there are no explanations via radio broadcasts or internet messages.

Living in an isolated, boarded-up fortress of a house in the middle of woods, is a father, Paul, (Joel Edgerton) an erstwhile history teacher who has had to learn to be a survivalist. His entire existence revolves around protecting his wife, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their 17-year-old son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). He goes by the motto, “You can’t trust anyone but family,”. The family survives by sticking to rules and a strict routine, and, being American, are careful to be armed at all times. They live a wary existence. Outsiders are not welcome.

When a desperate stranger named Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their house looking for water and provisions, the family’s paranoia goes into overdrive. He is knocked out and tied to a tree.

When it transpires that Will is himself a man with a wife, Kim (Riley Keough), and 4-year-old son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), he manages to convince Paul and Sarah that his family may be dying of thirst not too far away.

The now-allied fathers rescue and bring Will’s wife and son back to the house and the two families come to an arrangement to live together amicably. Clearly, if they join forces they will be safer together… or will they?

Indistinct voices are heard mumbling behind walls; muted shuffling occurs behind locked doors; eerie howls echo outside at night; the family guard-dog runs off into the woods in search of something – an atmosphere of intensifying dread pervades the film.

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It’s never made clear exactly what does ‘come at night’. Certainly nothing that manifests itself in any obvious way. What appears to come is fear and paranoia, and nightmares.

17-year -old Travis is particularly prone to bad dreams, and they only intensify when newcomers Will, Kim and Andrew arrive.  Hormonal adolescent stirrings begin to torment him as he becomes acutely aware that he is the only male without a partner and without prospect of one. He eavesdrops on the bedroom conversations of the young couple and begins to have discomforting dreams about pretty Kim.

Despite best intentions, allegiances begin to fray when paranoia again begins to raise its head.

Director of photography Drew Daniels keeps things in the dark, and the film is infused with a perpetual gloom, punctuated by close-ups of frightened faces by lantern-light. Even in the daylight the surrounding woods appears shadowy and threatening.

Houston-born writer-director Trey Edward Shults (still only in his 20s) presented a tense debut in his low-budget psychological thriller Krisha (2016). In It Comes at Night, he has contrived a situation which exposes the frailty of human connections under extreme pressure and insecurity – where fear forces kindly people to make brutal decisions. He places a tight-knit family in a post-apocalyptic world, where hunger and thirst are constant threats but other, less defined perils, prove to be even more deadly.

It Comes At Night is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

All Eyez on Me – Review

Tupac Shakur will always be remembered for his incredible contribution to music. Before Hip-Hop became about attainment and wealth, the early front runners used music as a form of social awareness.  The genre, always associated with violence and not without an aggressive tone, spoke of communities forgotten by middle America.

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The rapper’s music, poetry, teachings, and videos are some of the most inspiring from the Hip-Hop movement. Yet the rappers ‘Thug Life’ image, personal life and criminal record make him a controversial icon. The contradiction of someone who spoke out on the cycle of violence for black Americans, yet was involved in altercations, makes him a fascinating subject.

His life and music are brought to the big screen in a biopic named after his fourth studio album, All Eyez on Me. Despite a wealth of material from his life and work, as well as an intense lead in Demetrius Shipp Jr. the film falls flat. Without a strong central narrative and jumping from the most controversial elements of his life, it does not create a deeper understanding.

From his early life growing up in inner-city neighbourhoods, to his rise in hip-hop fame. Tupac Shakur came from a socially active background. His mother and step-father were Black Panthers and he was shown the inequalities of the system early. Moving around with his at times unstable mother, Tupac discovered his talents for music early and began his ascent to fame. Despite his musical abilities, he is faced with corporal interference, personal struggles, and multiple run-ins with the law. As his music grows in popularity, his rights to his work are under threat as the rivalry between Hip-Hop gangs threatens his life.

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The film is directed by Benny Boom, who is more known for his music videos than any feature film work. With many directors attached to the project throughout its development, (including John Singleton, who was approved by the rapper’s mother). His background makes him a commercial choice for such a project.

With the film, director Boom has pieced together the more known and frankly controversial moments of his subject’s life. He has not weaved a narrative from his work, interviews and life to create a better understanding of such a figure. The script is uneven, moving from poignant and strong (usually sections taken from the rappers interviews), to flat and forced. Many aims of the film do feel admirable: His family’s Black Panther background and highlighting the issues faced by inner-city inhabitants, but these are stated rather than shown through a solid story.

Like any self-respecting musical biopic, the film makes use of the Tupac’s ncredible music, from his early tapes, poignant songs such as Brenda’s Got a Baby to his worldwide hits. Not a seat will be still when California Love comes on, making the music is of course a highlight of the film.

Walking in to such a film anyone who grew up with Tupac’s music would have expected a Boyz N the Hood tone for his biopic. Coming from his background tonally such a film should feel gritty. Yet Boom has gone for an over stylized and unnatural look. Most noticeable are a scene in which Tupac meets a girl in a club, which turns into a music video. Also, the film’s last scene, which should be harrowing, but is disrupted by slow-motion, smoke and ill-fitting music. The director’s music video background shows here and not to the film’s graces.

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In the lead role, Demetrius Shipp Jr. bears an obvious and striking resemblance to the man himself. At times within the film he captures the tone of the late rapper perfectly. His intensity, his movements, and his performance energy when he is seen on stage. Yet with a shoddy story, awkward direction, and a bad script, his efforts are wasted.

Danai Gurira is a force to be reckoned with as Tupac’s strong matriarchy mother but even her efforts are lost. In only a small role, Kat Graham plays actress Jada Pickett-Smith, a life-long friend to the rapper. Even with a cute opening dynamic, she feels misplaced and pointless to the overall story.

Despite focusing on one of the most talented and contradictory musical figures of our generation, the film fails to impress. Without a strong central narrative, and bad direction, All Eyez on Me is not the biopic such an artist deserved.

All Eyez On Me is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!