Tag Archives: joel edgerton

It Comes At Night asks what will scare us the most come the End of the World

It’s a bit of a cliche to talk about movies about the Final Days in terms of how “they reveal the real monster/virus/nuclear holocaust to be man,” especially after The Walking Dead repeatedly beat the idea into the ground with a barbed-wire baseball bat over the course of 7 steadily more interminable seasons.

Yet still, I feel like it’s worth bringing up when discussing director Trey Edward Shults’ new film from A24, It Comes At Night. Let it not be because I am a walking cliche, but because I cannot think of any film in quite some time that so embodies that ethos. Not only in the fact that there is no monster (which is sure to irritate many an unsuspecting theatergoer), but for the fact that it has such an uncompromisingly bleak view of what we will do when the chips come down, and the terror that the family unit can wreak.

Set sometime after a plague has devastated humanity, a family – father Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) hidden away in a remote cabin in the woods buries their infected grandfather. One night, a man (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their house, seeking supplies from a house he says he believed to be uninhabited (if you believe him).

Paul takes the man captive and then lets the man, Will, bring his family, Kim (Riley Keough) and Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), back to their house to survive together. But being trapped in a desperate scenario makes for darker impulses.

It Comes At Night is almost certainly not the movie the marketing is selling or even that the title is selling. Implied in the images of desiccated men with blackened eyes and ominous doors and shadowy woods is that there is some monster lurking and an “IT” that comes at night, a zombie or a vampire or something that can be defeated to beat back the darkness.

The groans and moans I heard exiting the theater likely ties into the precise lack of any of that. It Comes At Night is ultimately more deeply unsettling than frightening, its scares eliciting gut-wrenching rather than adrenaline-raising.

But based on Shults’ previous film Krisha, that should be no surprise. Krisha was something of a horror film in this vein, a creeping dread set in around when its lead would eventually fail her family.

Ultimately, It Comes At Night is in the same vein. A film of family horror, where the shading of the relationships is the animating force, slowly pushing the dynamics to their breaking point and seeing what’s left after the devastation. Where its trust and the lack thereof is what destroys everyone.

There’s something more fully formed in Shults’ nihilism here. In fact, in general, It Comes At Night is impressive for seeing the massive leaps forward Shults has taken in the things that animate him as a filmmaker. That nihilism is at the core, a fundamental distrust in the nature of humanity and his belief that people will ultimately let each other down, is fully formed here. Your mileage may vary as to whether or not that’s a good thing, but that is the impulse that electrifies It Comes At Night, a sort of sighing resignation that we will ultimately eat each other and maybe we deserve it.

It Comes At Night has also pushed forward from a filmmaking perspective. Krisha felt like an excessive ape of his mentor Terrence Malick, It Comes At Night alters that free-floating camera into something more meditative and focused. It maintains the ethereal beauty and the glide, but it’s absolutely willing to lock and linger now, putting emphasis on stares and glances and the stoic faces.

Shults’ filmmaking is the painting here, his writing keeping a tight and twisty narrative that tends towards ambiguity (occasionally to the film’s detriment) but being largely serviceable. Perhaps the biggest inconsistency here is acting.

Edgerton is great, even if he’s basically doing the same performance he does every time. Ejogo is great, but she doesn’t get much to do, same goes for Keough. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is truly great, given the most complex character and absolutely knocking out of the park. Christopher Abbott is…serviceable. Not actively bad, but seems just kind of lost in a character that’s more about hiding things than revealing anything.

But It Comes At Night’s successes far far outweigh those failures. It’s a portrait of the end, a dark and nihilistic twist on the idea that during the Apocalypse, we will be more dangerous to ourselves than anyone or anything else.

Grade: B+

Loving is a wonderful, if slightly undramatic, portrait of an unknowingly rebellious love

Summary: The true story of the case that ended anti-miscegenation laws around the country. Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) are young and in love living in Virginia. They drive up to D.C. to get married. The Lovings’ attempt to start their life together is interrupted when they’re arrested for “unlawful cohabitation.” This is the beginning of a decade-spanning battle that goes up to the Supreme Court as the Lovings continue to try to find some sense of normalcy.

The secret at the core of Loving is that for an inherently political story and an activist biopic, it’s not fully either of those things. I mean, it is, by necessity. It’s impossible for a film of its ilk to not be.

First and foremost, it is a personal story, a domestic story of two quiet people finding love and finding out how to negotiate it in their world. In that way, it turns that into a story of activism, of how love can be a political act even when they don’t want it to be. It turns that into a film that seeks to eschew the normal beats of a historical drama, no sweeping speeches and grand weightiness. Just two people in love.

And those two people are extraordinary. Jeff Nichols has always been good with actors, but Loving is in a lot of ways his most actorly film, one that gives more space than ever for character interaction and relationships and the little moments that make up performances. Of course, Nichols’ refusal to make this a big sweeping tale means that his actors are under those same constraints, pulled down so far as to make their few moments of acting excess (crying mostly) stand out all the more.

Edgerton has always been an incredibly solid player only occasionally given a role that uses his ability to give meaning to reticence (The Gift being the last that springs to mind, especially since it was directed and written by him). As Richard Loving, Edgerton uses that reticence to bring the difficulty Richard has expressing himself to the forefront. It’s a deeply sensitive performance, one that understands the little expressions that say a lot and the difficulties a man like this would have becoming such a prominent figure, a man who loved in front of the whole world.

But as great as Edgerton is, it’s Ruth Negga who really blew me away. She embodies the movie, letting the quiet things that few other actors would let speak fill the narrative frame. Look at how she wilts when she’s forced to leave Virginia, the way she’s able to show strength without ever trying to be powerful. Negga is truly phenomenal, wearing everything with deep and wonderful subtlety.

And part of it is that Nichols gives the two of them actual meaty material to work with. I can imagine a lot of takes on this story that turn the two into infallible saints, those who can do no wrong and therefore lose any semblance of nuance or really delving into what makes these real people worth rooting for.

In a lot of ways, that’s the film’s biggest strength. It does feel like a snapshot from the period, one that’s interested almost entirely in the two of them. It’s not full of fire-breathing racists, but just the ones they directly have to deal with. It’s not full of protracted legal drama, just what the two of them need to know as the case moves forward.

By the way, quick side note about the legal drama: Nick Kroll is their lawyer. Like, I get it. Hell, the film even does a smart thing by making it clear that his awkwardness is part of a performance, that the man is out of his depth. But as a long time fan of The League, The Kroll Show, and Comedy Bang Bang!, I can’t help but see every other character before I see Bernie Cohen. He does a good job, but that’s totally on me.

Anyway, Nichols has drawn the focus so down to the couple that it does sort of suffocate some of the possible surrounding drama. Everything is focused on presenting that. It’s shot warm and soft, like an old photograph, and it’s all focused on presenting their faces and their interactions. Everything serves that central relationship.

Which means anything else gets shoved out. The legal drama, the political struggle they face, all of it feels kind of shoved into the background for a story that gets flattened out. There’s a remarkable story to connect with, but its forward motion can be uneven and sputtering, the core is never really quite there. It’s a study, not a story.

But on the other hand, Loving has enough to overcome that. It’s a powerful reminder of what love can be and what love can mean. It’s a story of the radical act of defying the norms and holding out hope. A beautiful portrait of two people trying their best, it’s just a shame that it doesn’t feel a little more urgent in the direction that it tells that story.

GRADE: A-

P.S. The only good use of the “real people” at the end of a biopic this year.