'It Comes At Night' Spoiler Discussion: Picking Apart The Most Unnerving Movie Of The Summer

Trey Edward Shults' It Comes At Night opens today and while it's not the movie being sold in the trailers, it's an exceptional piece of work. Tense and unsettling and bleaker than bleak, it's going to rattle nerves of audiences everywhere this weekend. And everyone who sees it is probably going to have a lot to talk about.

Alex Riviello and Jacob Hall certainly did. Unable to get the film out of their minds, the two of them sat down to talk about the movie in spoiler-filled detail.

A Deliberate Lack of Answers

Jacob: The thing that immediately struck me about It Comes at Night is that it doesn't offer you any complete or satisfying answers about the nature of its world. This is by design, of course. We never leave the woods and we spend the bulk of the movie in this isolated cabin with Joel Edgerton and his family as some kind of unspecified apocalypse rages on in the cities. Since the vast majority of post-apocayptic movies open with a voice over narration explaining how the world fell apart (usually over stock footage of old nuclear tests), this is appropriately jarring. The film refuses to hold your hand from moment one and refuses to offer you any assistance moving forward. I found this exhilarating – the characters don't have time for small talk, so the movie doesn't either. Did you find this deliberate distance exciting or did it leave you cold?

Alex: I'm the same as you! I love it when a film is confident that viewers will stick with it and figure things out at their own pace. I also think it's the absolute best way to put us in the right mindset for a survival film like this. It's one thing to say that millions of people are dead, there's some horrible illness ravaging the world, blah blah blah. Numbers and facts don't hit the same way as a film that throws you into a situation and forces you to live with what's happened, to feel the new world. I think its ambiguity could definitely turn some people off, though. I know it's been popular to compare it to slow burn films like The Witch, but it does feel in the same pantheon, a film that offers no easy answers yet is incredibly rewarding for those that stick with it. Of course, I can see the incoming criticism from audiences mad that we never actually do find out what the titular "it" is. At the Q&A of the premiere screening, multiple people tried to get director Trey Edward Shults to reveal more about what's going on, and I was happy to see him refuse to explain anything. Do you think it should have answered more questions than it raises, though?

Jacob: I think asking it to answer questions is demanding it to be a different film. This really is arthouse horror, the kind of movie that demands a long conversation at a coffee shop after the credits roll. It's not a good, "fun" time at the movies and I appreciate that the movie isn't afraid to treat us, and its characters, like shit. If the people on screen can't be sure of anything, why should we? The film creates this sense of both frustration and danger – we cannot, and will not, know for sure what kind of threat is at hand here and how to defeat it or protect ourselves from it. Those feelings of frustration, of watching something incomplete, echo the events in the film itself, where no one can trust each other and where nightmares can become indistinguishable from reality. It Comes at Night wants to leave you with the cinematic equivalent of a concussion. It hurts and you can't see straight and you're not sure how it happened or how you could have prevented it. I'm not sure that's something many audiences want to experience, but it's something that I'm glad happened to me.

it comes at night trailer

Nightmares and Aspect Ratios

Jacob: Speaking of nightmares, I want to bring up the dream sequences. I'm assuming you noticed how Shults manipulates the aspect ratio in these scenes and only uses music when we're in a nightmare?

Alex: I noticed the music but not the aspect ratio until it was over. It's a pretty clever trick. Even though I wasn't aware of the change, it was immediately obvious that something feels off. You know right away when it's a dream sequence and it works so well to show you poor Travis' mindset. The kid is an absolute mess, and while seeing him wandering around at night gives you an idea of how rattled he is, these little glimpses into his worst fears (and desires) is brilliant. A big budget horror movie would have made the film all about the survivor dad character, but here, we're with the kid, and just as confused and frustrated about the family's decisions. I also love the decision to focus on Travis' sexuality. He's a teen with hormones raging out of control and yet he's stuck in this boarded-up house with his parents. There is absolutely no way to let off that steam, not even (eww) looking in on his parents doing it. If there's a worse hell than that, I don't want to know about it.

it comes at night

Something in the House...

Alex: And speaking of hell, how utterly terrifying is the early scene when Travis is woken up by his mom, saying that there's something is in the house? I don't think I breathed for about ten minutes.

Jacob: For a movie that is completely lacking in traditional jump scares of any kind, that's a terrifying moment. In retrospect, it may be my favorite sequence from the entire movie. There are few things as frightening on a primal level as being in the dark and knowing that you're not alone. The movie definitely reaches more emotionally disturbing places in its final half hour, but that early scene, when the family investigates something really does get under your skin. I especially like how the pacing of the scene reflects the characters themselves – it's not in a hurry because the character on screen are not in a hurry. They don't go blindly charging into a dangerous situation. They have a process and they trust that process, taking things step-by-step. It's a perfect excuse for Shults to drag out the tension to unbearable levels.

Alex: After a dozen horror movies that are nothing but jump scares, I definitely appreciate one that just seeps into your bones and doesn't go for the easy fright.

It Comes At Night

Just Enough Evidence

Jacob: Another scene that really stands out is the brief gun battle in the woods, where they encounter an armed man taking potshots at their truck. It's one of the least romantic shootouts I've seen in any movie. Just a bunch of ordinary people who aren't crack shots trying to survive. I love that there's an entire storyline here that we simply don't see. Who were those two guys? What happened to them? Why where they here? We never find out. Considering what happens later, I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility to imagine that they aren't there by coincidence. Have you given much thought about Will's story, which subtly changes until he loses the trust of Paul? Could these be the dead family members he mentions and their ambush was an ill-fated "rescue" attempt? I think the film opens up these kinds of questions. Like Paul and his family, we can only look at the evidence and try to decide what's connected and what's random, who's lying and who's telling the truth.

Alex: I like your idea about the two strangers, although I'm not sure I'm convinced they were connected to Will. I can't imagine how hard it would be to live for weeks with someone who had murdered someone close to you. Even though Paul is more extreme, I see both fathers as very similar characters. They're both looking out for their own families and can give a damn about anyone else. That's why I think Will's story keeps changing – he's afraid of what Paul is capable of, and what starts out as a little lie snowballs into a big lie. There's also no way that these two would have survived together in such close quarters, since any little fight they might have is amplified in this situation. The other thing that isn't completely spelled out is whether Andrew is sick at the end of the film. I think he was, since I can't see any other reason for Will and Kim to try to take off the way they do if he wasn't.

Jacob: For sure. But the film is ambiguous enough that I think people will be picking it apart for years to come. I generally hate "fan theories," but Shults has left a bunch of pieces here that demand to explored and picked over. I love it.

it comes at night

That Big Conversation

Jacob: Let's talk about the conversation between Paul and Will, where they share some booze and have a friendly chat that takes a very dark and surprisingly subtle turn. I think we all knew that something was going to happen to drive a wedge between these two. After all, everyone gets along a little too well for that middle half hour! Will's misspoken line about his family member got gasps from my audience, and rightfully so. It clicks for us just as it clicks for Paul. It's a small but important beat, delivered perfectly. The film is so sparse that we remember every detail and every detail ends up mattering. Did this scene also hit you like a truck?

Alex: It actually was more an affirmation of my suspicions. Maybe it's because I would be equally paranoid in that situation, but I was going along with Paul and thinking he was being really clever. The families were getting along well, but I doubt Paul was sharing his booze just to be friendly. That was an interrogation. Don't forget that Paul used to be a teacher – he likely knows how to cut through the bullshit, and this was his attempt to do it without family interference. It's telling that one of the most intense scenes can be just two guys chatting, though. Like the rest of the movie, there's no clear resolution to that conversation, no climax. It's why the film is as tense as it is! It's allowed to just build and build until you know something's going to pop. Even with some panic-inducing scenes like the one where their dog runs off (and you're left to stare into the woods, hoping you see something and terrified that you will) it just kind of... ends, leaving us alone to think about its meaning.

it comes at night 2

The End of Everything

Alex: This film has really haunted me in a way few others have. I keep thinking about the ending, about what I'd do in this situation. There's that age-old question of what survival really is – just living, or is it retaining your humanity? I'm not sure what I'd choose.

Jacob: While I think that's a familiar question for a post-apocalyptic survival movie to be tackling, I don't think I've seen it explored quite like this before. Most stories like this, whether they be The Road Warrior or The Walking Dead, have some element of romance to them. The world is gone but you get to drive a cool car or go on adventures full of guns and drama! Other films in this mold can't help but get you excited by the end of the world, even a little bit. But It Comes at Night focuses purely on the despair of the situation. Even the brief action beats are stomach-churning rather than thrilling. It really does feel like an appropriate film for a year as mind-melting as 2017 – the world ends with a whimper and it hurts an awful lot.


It Comes at Night is in theaters now. You can read Alex's full review from the Overlook Film Festival right here.