It Comes At Night Ending Explained
It Comes At Night Ending Explained - or how a zombie-less zombie movie might just be the best zombie movie you have ever seen. IMDB
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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.


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?

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21 Responses

  1. Henry

    Watched today on your recommendation. Great find. Thanks for sharing. I thoroughly enjoyed the suspense. In reading about the movie after viewing, a related title I had not previously watched was The Road (2009), starring Viggo Mortensen. I guess I’ll give that a watch. Have you seen that one?

    • Taylor Holmes

      Yeah, really loved the book. The movie was well done. But the book is a lot better. Liked both… let’s put it that way. Viggo did a fantastic job. That scene with the grandparents? hahaha. So good. Love to hear what you thought of it.

      • Henry

        Watched the Road, and it definitely communicates a sense of hopelessness and despair. All of the acting performances were really good. I may give the book a read as I have read some of the details in the film (like the thumbs) are explained in a more straightforward manner. Conversely, in the movie those details are left hanging, which actually contributes to the overall sense of ongoing doom.

  2. JR

    Love this website and hate to be pedantic, but you have some names mixed up. Travis is the teenager, Andrew is the little boy, and Stanley is the dog. Really enjoyed this movie and agree with your take on it.

    • Taylor Holmes

      Thank you. I just knew that I had jacked that all up half way through. Appreciate your kind hearted suggestion for improvement. Definitely not par for the course. Fixing it now.

  3. Alessio

    I think you can see the ending in a different way. Keep in mind the – supposed – flashback of Travis entering the red door at the end.
    Before, Will tells Paul not to wear the mask when he enters their room ‘cos (cit.) “nobody is sick this room”. They ask Andrew to keep his eyes closed, not because is sick, but in order to not see the dramatic events incoming and not being traumatized. So, I think, the only one sick is Travis who actually got in touch with the dog AFTER taking Andrew to his room. They killed, probably, an entire healthy family. They struggle at the table at the end just wondering is this is a life worth living.

    • Taylor Holmes

      I like that interpretation a lot. Ok. You win. I have a few more movies I’d like your help with if you don’t mind.

      Seriously though, that would be a seriously rich ending. Massively rich. Murder then suicide… because they realize they are what comes at night. I dig it.

      • Alessio

        What movies? FYI I followed your blog for a long time. Love it. I use it very often to share a movie list with friends. But… you have no movie list! A part the short list “MOVIES 2 MAKE YOU THINC.” in the Cinema Home Page, you just have the 28 page looooooong list of the category itself. Please, make the former one clickable and redirect to a one-page-compact&clear-list of all the movies you reviewed. THNX :)

  4. Venkatesh Kudire

    I liked your take on it.
    By the way who killed the dog Stanley in the woods?

    I am thinking some evil host of the virus killed Stanley and Travis actually opened the red door at night to fetch injured Stanley (looks like a dream but not) which is when he is infected who in turn affects Andrew later opening can of worms.
    Didn’t really liked the whole movie (surely not enjoyable)

  5. Will

    My take is that the last scene is him walking to the red door with the light is where his grandpa is in the very beginning. He must hear a noise and go into the room with no gloves or mask. He ultimately gets sick in the very beginning. This leads to the dreams and sleep walking. He eventually contaminates the young boy and sets in motion his dads actions. The end is after he has passed and his parents both now contaminated realize they were doomed from the start and killed a innocent family contaminated by their own son.

    Thoughts ?

    Great movie.

  6. Will

    My take is that the last scene is him walking to the red door with the light is where his grandpa is in the very beginning. He must hear a noise and go into the room with no gloves or mask. He ultimately gets sick in the very beginning. This leads to the dreams and sleep walking. He eventually contaminates the young boy and sets in motion his dads actions. The end is after he has passed and his parents both now contaminated realize they were doomed from the start and killed a innocent family contaminated by their own son.

  7. Abdulla

    Love this Site! Watched the movie on your recommendation!

    Just want to mention that Travis didn’t dream of going out to take the dog until after Stanley was shown put into his grave and cremated.

    And I too think this movie was about fear and how it can make you act irrationally. Both of the families represent different group of individuals afraid of the other (eg: Religious groups, different race, etc). None of them understand that they could have an “evil” one within them. Like Will says in the comment, that Travis could have been contaminated from the start.

    And a different take: Before Travis found Andrew, Travis woke up but his dream wasn’t shown. Could this mean that this time he wasn’t dreaming? He was sleep walking? And that he did hurt Andrew? And that is why Kiim and Will wanted to leave? Nobody bothered to ask Will and Kim why they wanted to leave. Maybe because they felt Travis was a danger. Maybe?

    I know a very dark take on the story but I kind of looked at it from all perspective (as many as I can).

  8. Bart

    I have a few takes on the events of the movie but what I would like to share is my take on the title and it’s meaning to me. I believe that the title is in reference to the “boogeyman” of the movie which isn’t a monster or physical being, but the human predisposition to irrational fear/paranoia when darkness falls…hence the night terrors. Did anyone notice that the few times people ventured out into the dark, there wasn’t a monster to get them? The fear that these people had drove the events of the movie, not the mystery illness which in all actuality was probably overblown. Remember the two men in the ambush? Were they sick, or more likely, irrationally fearful of others just like everyone else. The movie really delves into the deepest darkest corners of human depravity without all the gore that is so prevalent in today’s cinema. I found it brilliant. And for the record, I believe Travis was ill from the start or shortly after. I also believe he was the one that opened the door and was the one to harm the dog. I don’t think anyone else was ill. Will and family suspected the illness, or were fearful of this other group out of the aforementioned irrational paranoia. Very thought provoking!

  9. Sinner

    Hi, I just happened to stumble on this blog while I was trying to find something mind challenging to watch -I was just finished watching “Personal Shopper”- and few days ago I also watched this “It comes at night” film.
    I don`t have any take on the whole plot although the end did puzzle me, but what I really want to ask you is this: did you, or anyone, notice a dark silhouette into the wood while they were driving to fetch the family? prior meeting the snipers? Because that really intrigued me not only because it seemed like a cameo or any other sort of symbolism to point out that the whole films plot it is not what is being presented? -kinda like a Lynch-esque manner, adding elements into the films that has nothing to do with anything just for the sole idea of making the viewer wonder ?
    Due to my profession I`m just really prone to notice all these random details, which is a blessing and a curse- a curse cause its really hard to find films with hidden symbolism-.
    Anyway I`d recommend you “First they killed my father”- if you haven`t watched it yet.

  10. Caden

    Just watched this film a few days ago and I thought it was brilliant. After reading your review and some of the comments, I am also starting to think of different possibilities of how the ending can be interpreted and I really like that about this film.

    I never really thought of it as Travis being sick from the beginning, but that is starting to make a lot of sense. I am still trying to figure out why they told the boy to cover his eyes as they were leaving (also, if I remember correctly, he was crying and whimpering a lot as the parents were telling him to calm down and to not be loud) I just feel like if he wasn’t sick, then they would’ve showed him to Paul to prove their point. (Then again, this is also all speculation based on the fact that Travis told Paul that he thinks Andrew is sick)

    I also find it tough to believe that is boy isn’t sick because Will got caught in a lie talking to Paul when they were drinking the alcohol in the Gpa’s room. He said he was an only child, but when he was caputured in the beginning of the film, he said he has a brother who died. (Which doesn’t help Will’s case at all when he says his son isn’t sick.)

    Even towards the end after the boy is shot and killed, wouldn’t the mother have said something along the lines of “He wasn’t even sick” or “you people are murderers. We tried to leave because your son is the real sick one.” Or something like that? And then of course I believe both Paul and Sarah are infected at the end since Paul had to take off his mask in the room with the boy/he fought Will in the woods (who was probably infected if his son was) and Sarah was comforting Travis w/o a mask as he was showing signs of infection/dying.

    Wow…I just love how this film makes you think and how you will never really know what the ending is since it is al based on your own thoughts and imagination. Haha

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. Numenosium

    Great read! I’ll have to check this film out. I was curious, but worried it would disappoint. Sounds like it’s the diamond in the proverbial rough of modern horror films (which I usually loathe).

    Oh, forgive me…I’m a bit obsessed with this sort of thing, but I just have to point out that you sort of mixed up the words “since” and “sense”.

    Thanks for the fun and informative post!

  12. Jennifer Gosnell

    We also saw the humanistic figure in the woods while they were driving.. it wss right after he said he either up around there or just around there.
    And another time when they were in the woods was it 1000s of sacades in the tree?
    We thought the disease resembled tree characteristics. Not sure why or the the importance of that, but we found it odd.
    Anyway great posts everyone.
    Oh and it did look like the mother was sick at the end…her face and arms but not the dad.
    And a different twist.. no good deed goes unpunished. That is how my husband saw the end.

  13. Lekan

    Travis opened the red door to go find his dog, but the dog had dug up the grandfather that was burned and buried (this was what was shown in the dream sequence). The dog obviously got infected and Travis got infected bringing the dog into the house. Travis then touched the little boy Andrew and took him to bed. The little boy started coughing and showing symptoms rather quickly.
    Andrew was coughing so he definitely was infected
    Andrew couldn’t reach the red door to open so it was definitely Travis who opened it
    Grandfather was barbequed close to the house, and hungry dogs want grilled meat hence the infection
    The father spent three days with the family to make sure they weren’t sick before bringing them into the house


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