I’ve been going back through the best of the best posts that I’ve done here on THiNC., and I am resurfacing them one a week, just to make sure that each movie gets the attention that they deserve. Today is a really good one – It Comes At Night Ending Explained. Can’t imagine a better movie to refocus our attention on.
Man I love movies. And I actually love finding you all good movies maybe even a little more than I even love movies. Wait, what? Did I just say that out loud? But it’s true. I scour the interwebs for new movies coming our way. Not the normal schleppy/crappy Hollywood movies, but crazy intense, complex, different moves. Upside down movies. Movies that make you go… “Wait, WHAT?!?” They literally run shivers up my spin thinking about them. So exciting when you find that perfect little movie, that movie that was made on their mother’s credit card, and with a “borrowed” camera from Best Buy. Or maybe just shot on their iPhone? I am even thinking about pulling together a newsletter or a hit list of the THinc. Recommended movies of the last couple years. For only a very limited fee… of course. hahah.
Anyway – today? Oh today. Boy do I have just an atomic bomb of a movie for you today. It Comes At Night. Which, I have been waiting to get my hands on for a near forever. But finally, I finally snagged a copy, and oh how it didn’t disappoint. It Comes At Night sort of has the feel of The Survivalist, or better yet even, Z for Zachariah. Dark. Brooding. Just all kinds of evil portent skittering just outside the frame.
But for those of you who haven’t had a chance to see it yet, just trust me. When have I ever steered you in the wrong direction!? Ok, besides my utmost devotion to the Transformers series because of a deep childhood fracture that we just won’t talk about here anymore. Other than that, how have I lead you astray? For those of you who don’t know me yet – (Hi! I’m Taylor), and don’t plan on taking my word for it. It Comes At Night is set in a post apocalyptic world after some sort of something went horribly wrong. A family of three are living out in the wild trees somewhere in the Appalachians? when they get a visitor. And this family really needs to decide what to do about this visitor. I’ll post a trailer here – but I would actually recommend watching this thing sight unseen. Just go for it and let the surprises come to you.
So, alright? Pretty tight little idea happening here. Now, as I’d like to discuss this movie and specifically the ambiguous ending, you should head on over that ——-> way, and watch it. But please, feel free to come back and discuss it with us once you’ve had a chance to see it.
It Comes At Night – Deep Dive Walk Through
The movie starts with a shot of the only human infected person we ever see in this movie. (With one or two little caveats we’ll get to in due time.) With one opening scene we learn a ton. Gandpa is sick. He’s wheezing and incoherent. Sarah, his daughter is riddled with grief and decides to stay inside for this next bit, after saying her goodbyes. Will and Travis – the son-in-law and grandson respectively – haul Grandpa out in a wheelbarrow, cover his head with a cloth, and shoot him in the face. They dump him in a hole, dose the corpse with gas, and light it. They then bury this burnt corpse.
And right there, we get a massive, massive dose of world building my friends. In the first five minutes we see that the entire house is boarded up save for a single red door. We realize that in this world the fear of catching this disease is horrifying. Maybe it could possibly a zombie type outbreak? We don’t really know. I had assumed that this was a zombie movie, so, as I watched, I went in with this assumption 100%. But like Z for Zachariah, the disease plays second fiddle to the impact of said dis-ease. And you know what, as I am writing this, I am realizing they don’t really know how this disease is spread. They are guessing air born pathogens. But it could have very well have been skin born or heck who knows! But it is definitely caused by some sort of contact with a carrier. That’s about all the know.
The Dreams of It Comes At Night
Pretty early on the viewing audience realizes that the son, Travis, is not handling all of this very well. Every single time the movie shows us Travis sleeping we also are serenaded with a horrifying nightmare. Every single time… maybe? But we’ll talk about that again at the end. Everything is heading towards this question.
The night after Travis – a thoroughly protected 17 year old in spite of the apocalypse – watches his father shoot his grandfather in the face, we get the mother of all nightmares. And what makes these nightmares so brilliant is that there really is no visual queue to let the audience know whether or not it is real or not. No unicorns. No leprechauns. Nothing. Not to mention the fact that Brian McOmber drops on us one of the most frighteningly horrifying scores I’ve heard in a while. (And I have never heard of McOmber… ever. I’m dying to check out another one of his movies to see if this was a fluke or not, it was that good.) But pay attention to the dreams . The dreams are a key flag to where this train wreck is headed.
SOMEONE IS IN THE HOUSE!!!
The viewer goes from watching the grandfather die, to his immolation, to a full tilt nightmare of Travis’, to his waking to his mother yelling, “Wake up! Someone is in the house!!”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing that their worst nightmare is interacting with absolutely anyone else on the planet. The number one priority is making sure they have zero exposure to whatever it was that flipped poor grandpa out. Right? So, Travis, waking up to his mother screaming that someone is in the house is all kinds of bad juju.
Eventually they meet Will. Tie Will to a tree, and leave him to rot there for a solid 24 hours in order to allow for the signs of the sickness to manifest. (And can I say right now, this really is the world’s slowest incubating contagion movie of all time? Might be a lot more realistic, but World Z’s incubation timeframe was in the frame of seconds. Not days.) When he doesn’t, Paul and Will have a heart to heart. And at the end of that conversation I am realizing that the kumbaya days of yore are long sense dead and buried. Paul trusts Will zero. But because Sarah takes up Will’s, and his family’s case, he eventually ascents and agrees to let them come and join them.
Paul and Will decide to go together in Paul’s truck to bring them back. Fast forward past an encounter with two snipers on the road, and we jump to two families getting introduced to one another.
Is It Comes At Night A Zombie Movie?
It was about this time that I starting jotting notes furiously that went something like this, “WHERE ARE THE ZOMBIES? WHAT IS HAPPENING? WILL THE HOUSE GET SEIGED? THIS MOVIE IS COCKED AND LOADED FOR ALL KINDS OF EVIL.” It wasn’t that I wasn’t enjoying the movie. Not at all. I was loving it. The movie was just oozing all kinds of evil and the potential energy. But at minute 45 the movie gives us a few minutes of peace and apparent hope? But the audience knows better. We all know way better than this sudden since of happiness that is coming our way. But the zombies man? Where are the zombies. Oh, there are zombies in this movie alright. I promise you that. But let’s finish up this quick walkthrough and we’ll get to that.
Here Come the Zombies
Then suddenly while Paul, Will and Travis are out cutting wood, Grandpa’s dog Stanley starts barking at nothing and then hauls out into the woods. Travis, in a not so wise move, runs after the dog. But there is nothing there and the dog just suddenly stopped barking. Ominous. Truly ominous indeed.
Later that night Travis has a very realistic dream of chasing the dog out into the woods, in the dark, lantern, shotgun. Basically we just won buzzword bingo of horror movie motifs right there. Only to have Travis wake to his dream spewing black bile and sores all over his hands. Have you guys seen Inception lately? Yeah, dream within a dream. Can someone tell me if the top is still spinning? Anyone? And when Travis leaves his bedroom to see what is going on in the house he finds Andrew sleeping on the floor outside his bedroom. And then Travis returns Andrew to his parent’s bedroom. And then he hears a startling noise. Travis checks, finds the red door (oh I’m going to get to that red door) wide open and grandpa’s dog, Stanley all beaten up and sick.
But wait. Did Andrew get anywhere close to the Stanley? And just like that the two families decide to go into quarantine for a couple days. Remember that happy section of the movie? Yeah, that bit is dead now. Because now the two families are extremely wary of each other and the distrust that has always been scrambling under the surface is now out in full force, and we are steamrolling to the end now.
The Red Door IS OPEN
Alright, let’s talk about what the movie means even before we really get to the ending yet. The Red Door is a metaphor. It is a symbol and a sign. I mean, when do red doors like that exist in real life? And when is that the only way into and out of a house? In horror films the evil is always unintentionally invited in. Jaws, Alien, you name it… the evil is always invited in through the stupidity or selfishness of a character acting on their own. This is sin. This is moral failing. This is a symbol for our failures being played out on celluloid through a projector onto a screen. Always. It’s just one of those immutables. It just always is.
Knowing that. Where are the zombies in this movie? They are everywhere. But isn’t a zombie movie like you would normally expect. The zombies are all the people in this movie. Will. Paul. Sarah. Kim. Travis. These are our zombies in this movie. They are the ones carrying the evil intent. And it simply out of distrust and fear. Think about it. Think about what happens in the movie and think about the prime movers that make it all happen. It’s the people, their fear, their distrust that force the evil to happen. But it all comes down to the red door being opened.
The Ending of It Comes at Night Explained
Travis hears Andrew crying and goes to investigate more. And that is when he hears Will and Kim talking. It is at this moment that we know that they know, they are in imminent danger. Will and Kim realize that if Paul finds out that that Andrew is sick, all three of them are dead. So Travis – who is no innocent bystander – tells his father, and that is when everything goes to hell in a hand basket. We have a gun stand off… but ultimately we see Will shot. Andrew accidentally shot. And then Kim is killed. (Can I just say that Riley Keough, that actor that played Kim absolutely nailed that scene? I could hear the angst of a mother who has just lost her son. It was well played.)
And we were wondering where the zombies were. They were staring us in the face all along…
As the movie ends Travis has another one of his trademark dreams. Or is it? Do we stay in Travis’ dream as he wakes up with sores on his arms and spewing black gore? Is that Sarah’s voice from the beginning telling grandpa that he can let go? Or is she telling well to let go? And what do we make of that final scene of Paul and Sarah sitting at the table staring at each other?
Personally, I believe they are grappling with this realization that their evil deeds, their scraping, their scrabbling to stay alive has done nothing to save them ultimately. Personally I believe they realize they are now going to have to walk in and kill Travis, and then each other. They are realizing that their lives are over and on top of it all, to cause insult to injury, they are horrible, evil people that have done nothing to further their lives or to out maneuver their own deaths.
Final Thought on It Comes at Night
Trey Edward Shults, the writer and the director of this fabulous film may just be one of my new favorite people making movies today… and here’s why:
“I will say I care way less about unpacking how this, like the logic of it,” says Shults. “What I care about is, and why I like the movie to have an openness is [that] it can kind of mean different things to you. I have movies I’ll revisit after years of seeing and I see it in a new way. I’ll see something new about it. When a movie can have that openness, that’s what I really love.”
So that leaves the interpretation of it up to you. What do you bring to the movie? What psychological debt are you coming with? Because like a rohrshach test, you will see those things mirrored in the movie mainly because you are the optics through which you see the film. Which is brilliant film making. But it also means that I am not the authority on what happened in this movie. Could it be that this was all a dream? Could it be that the final ending was all in Travis’ dream before he woke up? Sure. But I do believe this movie is an indictment on humanity in general. That we are selfish and self serving and ultimately it just shortens everyone’s lives with no serious benefit at all.
I don’t know, I’ve said enough. What do you think about the movie, and what was your take on that amazing ending?