It Comes at Night is titled like a poppy, 1950s B-movie but its thrills are left at a rigorous remove. It’s an exercise in distance and frustration. Not only are its narrative connections left ambiguous, its thematic motivations and central metaphor are frustratingly out of reach.
Much of that feels intentional. It’s a movie about breakdown: in family, communication, society, our most treasured systems. In its nightmare scenario, a devastating virus has turned the modern world into a treacherous frontier. It’s framed like a western: on a lonely homestead, a father uses his most primal wits to protect his family from a primal threat. Through his son’s unreliable eyes, the world goes to hell.
But the movie also functions as a breakdown in cinematic reliability. Time passes arbitrarily, characters behave without reason. There’s not much to cling to in It Comes at Night’s nihilistic view of the ties that bind. In its grim world, there is no reason—nothing that lets the audience rely on even the most basic promises. (The title, for instance, is a bad joke.) For every promising turn—every moment when the movie teeters on the edge of a jittery madness—there’s a dead end.
When the lights come up, there’s nothing to cling to except an elliptical nihilism, one that feels less chilling than aggressively humorless.
For a premise with such promise, The Mummy manages to bungle almost every ounce of goodwill its brand has built over the better part of a century. Under Carl Laemmle, Universal became Hollywood’s most reliable source for monster fare in the 1930s: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstin, The Phantom of the Opera. The ’40s spawned The Wolf Man and the ’50s birthed The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Nothing much connected the movies. They didn’t even share an aesthetic or tone. Really, they were a branding exercise, one that emerged over the 1960s and ‘70s when they were packaged for syndication and merchandizing. But there’s something romantic in the offspring of Shelley, Hugo, and Stoker repositioned as gothic shlock. There’s still life left in these undead creations; every generation has their take. 1997’s The Mummy injected the lumbering Egyptian with an Indiana Jones-style rakishness.
And 20 years later, the Tom Cruise-led rebirth attempts the same thing without an ounce of that movie’s rogue charm. This movie imagines the mummy legend as an entry in the Mission Impossible mold, full of death-defying stunts and needlessly complicated plotting. The movie manages to be simultaneously over-plotted and profoundly stupid. But it zooms along confidently, a blur a conflicting motivations and junky special effects.
The Mummy is ostensibly the beginning of a new franchise—an Avengers-style riff on monster movies instead of comic books. There’s something to that idea; a germ of stupid fun. But this incarnation leans heavily on the former and forgets the latter: it’s a profoundly dumb bore.
It Comes at Night. Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults. Starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, and Carmen Ejogo. Opens in Kansas City June 9, 2017.
The Mummy. Directed by Alex Kurtzman. Written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman, Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman, and Jenny Lumet. Starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, and Annabelle Wallis.