It Comes at Night was nothing like I thought it would be. I expected a zombie flick or monsters crawling around in the darkness trying to eat the protagonist. But this film is a psychological thriller at its core and a damn smart one at that.
The gist of the plot is that a plague of some sort has decimated the world. Paul lives with his family in their remote house, away from the virus. They’re reasonable people who survive by being smart and cautious, adhering to safe routines that have thus far worked to keep them alive. But when another young family arrives at Paul’s door, his system of order is irreparably disrupted. Paranoia and fear creep in, much like the virus they’re so desperately trying to avoid, bringing with it dire consequences.
It’s most interesting to me in the way this film explores how two families-all logical, reasonable, and pragmatic people-can be pushed to do things they’d never normally do. It reminds me of that old Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, where Serling posits that good people are capable of terrible things, provided they’re sufficiently afraid for themselves and their loved ones. I’ve touched on these themes in my own books, something I like to call “conditional morality”. Probably explains why I liked this film so much.
John F. Kennedy said that the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. While it’s true that Paul and his family do have a very real virus to fear, it takes a back seat to paranoia in this tense thriller. The fear is the real threat here; it’s real and it’s deadly.