From It Comes at Night to A Ghost Story, a new breed of horror is creeping into the multiplex, replacing jump-scares with existential dread. We talk to the auteurs breaking all the rules
DO NOT GO SEE IT COMES AT NIGHT, ITS SO NOT WORTH WATCHING, WORST MOVIE EVER HANDS DOWN. Twitter was filled with countless such posts after the US release of It Comes at Night last month. Mainstream moviegoers went in expecting a straight-up horror; they came out unsure about what theyd seen, and they didnt like it. Critics, and a certain section of viewers, have loved the film, but its Cinemascore rating determined by moviegoers opening-night reactions is a D.
You can understand the confusion. The title alone strongly suggests It Comes at Night is a horror movie. As does the movies trailer, whose ingredients include a post-apocalyptic scenario, a cabin in the woods, gas masks, shotguns, prisoners, a stern patriarch (Joel Edgerton), and warnings never to leave doors unlocked or go out at night. Its by no means false advertising, its just that this tense, minimal movie doesnt play by accepted rules.
I didnt set out to make a horror movie per se, says Trey Edward Shults, the films 28-year-old writer-director. I just set out to make something personal and thats what it turned into. I put a lot of my own fears into it, and if fear equates with horror then, yeah, its horror. But its not a conventional horror movie.
Considering that horror is the place where we explore our mortal and societal fears, the genre is actually one of the safest spaces in cinema. More than any other genre, horror movies are governed by rules and codes: vampires dont have reflections; the final girl will prevail; the warnings of the gas station attendant/mystical Native American/creepy old woman will go unheeded; the evil will ultimately be defeated, or at least explained, but not in a way that closes off the possibility of a sequel. The rules are our flashlight as we venture into the unknown. But in some respects, theyve made horror a realm of what Donald Rumsfeld would describe as known unknowns.