My question walking out of the theatre after seeing Trey Edward Shults’s It Comes At Night is: WHAT comes at night? It’s not because I was left feeling confused. I have my own answer to that question. I ask that question because a film left me wanting to ask it to other people and have an actual face-to-face conversation. You know, human interaction? It’s something we used to do when I was a kid. We used our mouths and lungs to string sentences together by forming words one-by-one. Ah, the good ‘ol days. But yet, even I TEXTED my friend Rob that question. Guilty as charged.
Personally, I loved It Comes At Night. I believe the movie to be rich and deep, and it will leave audiences with either of the following: they’ll walk away completely satisfied, or they’ll walk away with a bad taste in their mouth. And that’s ok. Not everyone has to love a movie. In fact, as my wife and I were walking out a guy was standing around looking a little confused. We made eye contact (for the kids: this is an indicator that words will likely be exchanged between two or more people), and he says, “Did you… That ending… Ah man, I wanted more.” And here I am, walking out thinking, “Jesus, I need a drink and a smoke after watching that near-masterpiece.” (Thanks to the guy in the front row for helping me prove my point.)
This isn’t a movie review, though. As I’m texting Rob, I start having these feelings and thoughts (something strange to my black soul), and I have a revelation of sorts. Here’s a screenshot of a little bit of our interaction:
All three of these filmmakers have made films that have been somewhat polarizing. David Robert Mitchell made the 2014 critical success It Follows. CRITICS (for the most part) raved about it. Film aggregator Rotten Tomatoes (RT) has it sitting at 97% from 224 critics. Now, RT isn’t the end-all-be-all, and I’m a firm believer in making your own judgments after watching a movie, but I find RT to be a good homebase. General audiences, on the other hand, are very much split on this fresh take on a teen thriller. I love It Follows, not only for the story and performances, but the filmmaking blew me away.
How about Robert Eggers? He made the 2016 haunting period piece The Witch. “Certified Fresh” sitting at 91% from 276 critics, The Witch has earned those reviews. It’s a marvel of a movie that stuck with me for weeks after seeing it on opening weekend. On the other hand, look at the audience score on RT: 56%. General audiences are nearly split down the middle. To each his/her own, but you better watch your back for Black Phillip, y’all that didn’t like it.
That brings us to Trey Edward Shults. His first feature, Krisha (which you can watch on Amazon Prime right now), is something else. Have you ever been to an extremely uncomfortable family get together? Of course you have. We’re human beings! Krisha is that uncomfortable family gathering, shot on a handheld camera, seemingly POV. The first thing you’ll notice is that the filmmaker LOVES his long takes. Several minutes (and I mean several) go by without a break in footage. As far as response goes, critics and audiences both generally loved Krisha. It’s at 97% for critics and 80% for audiences on RT. Me, I had such an uncomfortable time watching the movie. And you know what? That’s exactly what Shults was going for. I could still appreciate that amazing filmmaking, though. Bringing us back to It Comes At Night, let’s take a look at RT scores: 87% for critics and 44% (!) from audiences. Polarizing. And in my mind, the mark of a great storyteller.
Now, what do these three have in common? To my point in the above screenshot, these guys (and so many others) are changing the game of filmmaking. “Blasphemy! They’re just making normal movies! Don’t be an idiot! You’re an idiot! Idiot.” Let me stop you before you have an aneurysm. These three are changing the filmmaking game by reaching back to their roots. They tell simple stories with real emotion in complex ways for little money.
Let’s look at the movies for a second in the simplest terms possible: It Follows is about a young woman struggling with love and acceptance. The Witch is about a teenage girl trying to earn her parents love and acceptance. Krisha is about a woman of a certain age trying to re-earn her family’s love and acceptance. It Comes At Night is about two families trying to break through trust issues and get to a place of love and acceptance. All four movies have a strong theme of identity. All four movies are about human emotions and relationships. Look back at some of the all-time great filmmakers (Welles, Hawks, Huston, Bogdanovich, Ford, Kubrick, etc.). They were all telling stories about the human condition and how we all related to one another. They told simple stories in complex ways.
Now let’s look at budgets. It Follows was made for $2 million. The Witch was made for $3.5 million. Krisha was made for $30,000, and It Comes At Night for $5 million. (Just a reminder, one of my all-time favorite zombie movies, The Battery, was made for $6,000.) Refer back to that screenshot – Rob made an excellent point. These filmmakers (and, I stress, so many others) are making the films and telling the stories they want to make and tell. They’re creating not for mass approval, but for putting important and artful stories out into the world. What the world needs most right now is love (cheesy, I know, but true) and one of the best ways to get that love out into the world is through art. Art/Creativity brings people together, and when people come together, relationships form, and when relationships form a bond is created, and out of that bond comes love.
Did you every think that a movie about a young woman contracting an STD that causes ghosts to follow her, or a movie about a teenage girl being outcast by her family and accused of witchcraft, or a movie about (censored due to spoilers of It Comes At Night) would put love out into the world. David Robert Mitchell, Robert Eggers, Trey Edward Shults, and countless others are creating art that is starting conversations that turn into relationships that turn into love. Math and movies. That’s what we do here in The Basement.