A “D,” that’s the grade It Comes at Night received. Not from us — our executive editor Chris Evangelista called it an essential viewing and a “masterwork of modern horror”.
No, that grade that would get you grounded for a weekend in high school came from CinemaScore. The same service gave The Mummy and Baywatch a B- and B+, respectively based on first screening audience’s reactions.
Those are both films audiences largely knew what they were getting from the trailers and TV spots. They’re popcorn films with A-list talent that’s difficult to not enjoy on a base level. It Comes at Night is not such a film, it’s the the opposite of what was teased.
When A24 released the teaser trailer four months ago, the internet blew up seeing promise for the next great horror film. It has been a great year for the genre already but Joel Edgerton’s masterful monologue as the camera glides through a dimly lit hallway with family photos, this looked like a new level of horror that’s been missing this year.
Similar trailer followed, continuing to build that eery feeling horror fans were eating up. Gas masks, a man tied to a tree, more haunting interior shots, and constant reminds not to go out at night because that’s when “it” comes.
Entering the theater, most audiences were expecting something similar to It Follows from two years ago or more modern staples like The Conjuring series or Sinister– bonafide horror films that have accrued some diehard fans. Even this year’s Split could be tossed in the same ring.
Exiting the theater, the term “worst movie” was uttered often. Not that I would know from personal experience not because I loved it but because I was the only one in the theater for my screening. But online, it’s been torn to shreds from those expecting something director Trey Edward Shults never intended.
At the time of writing, Shult’s meditation on grief in a cataclysmic landscape holds an 86 percent with a 7.3/10 average score. The audience score is a different story at 47% and a 2.7/10 average.
“This movie is not a horror movie! It is suspenseful and the acting is good, but in no way horror. This movie is a waste of money. If you want to see a horror movie do not see this!,” reads one review.
“Wait and wait and wait… stupid end,” said another distraught horror fan.
But I can’t blame them for hating it, especially when ticket prices continue to escalate to the point you need a second mortgage to go out. It’s frustrating to see another superbly inventive and technically masterful film flop and even worse that it’s partly indie darling A24’s fault.
“Imagine the end of the world. Now imagine something worse,” states the tagline.
That’s what “it” is supposed to be, something worse that end of the world. It’s something more meditative than supernatural scares or a singular antagonist. What builds up through the day and comes out after dark is a primal sense of survival and protectionism in a world at its end where no one can be trusted no matter their appearance. Pain exists on the surface while those buried are freed, thrusting the survivors into existential crises.
Of course, it’s difficult to build a trailer around psychological terror and grief. Packaging it like a classic cabin in the woods is the approach to fill seats but it’s become clear that’s not sustainable.
Unfortunately, most of the nuance of the film seems to have gone over the majority of the 2,533 theaters A24 put it in over the weekend, only grabbing $6 million from the box office. Similar effects were cast on The Witch last year on its straight to wide release weekend- though, that snagged over $8 million its opening weekend with 500 fewer screeners and without brand name talent attached like Edgerton.
A24 has become known for quality releases within the indie community so making its films readily accessible seems like the right move. But it may be time to rethink the distribution rollout and how its genre-bending films are marketed so burgeoning voices like Shults can be heard as clear as possible.