A24 is the new gold standard for independent horror-thrillers, hands down. Like their critically-acclaimed 2015 film, The Witch (stylized, The VVitch), this film is beautifully-shot. The filmmakers chose to focus on chiaroscuro (low-key lighting that causes a lot of a shot to be engulfed in shadow and darkness), and use slow-tracks and long-shot shooting techniques to keep the audience on-edge, throughout.
Trey Edward Shults’s directorial style doesn’t pander to the mainstream movie-goer, and there is little textual exposition and next to no hand-holding through the 91-minute film. Instead, Shults knew who his audience would be, as well as the repertoire of A24 and the high-brow draw that their previous films have had, and made a movie for him. Though not all “box office successes”, a connoisseur of the cinema arts will appreciate the studio’s subtlety and lack of commonplace tropes—jump-scares, over-the-top gore, and the need to have a monster as the main antagonist. All that goes doubly for this film.
Joel Edgerton (Warrior, The Great Gatsby ) leads the cast here, and comes across as a diverse and conflicted character without saying too much about his troublesome situation. Carmen Ejogo (Selma, Alien: Covenant) is a good emotional grounding for Edgerton’s character, keeping him level-headed through all the downs, while also being able to handle herself and take care of their son and home in Edgerton’s absence.
The dark sets feed into this family’s isolation as a major theme of the film; even when they find other survivors of this worldwide catastrophe and welcome the new family into their home, there’s still a sense of discomfort and tension that is brought on by the overall lack of civilization anymore. Their humanity, it appears, has also left on a long lunch.
Spoiler alert: This is not a monster movie!
Like The Babadook—one of my favorite psychological thriller films of all time—the terror is in the feeling of seclusion and the omnipresence of apparent evil, along with the paranoia that that breeds in people’s all-too-fallible minds.
There are, however, many prominent plot holes in the story, and—even now—I struggle to find resolutions to many of them. I have three or four working theories that can explain what the film is, superficially, about (Is there, possibly, a real entity stalking this family? Is it all in their heads?), and what the ending may mean for the movie that precedes it. A lot of people in the theatre sounded disappointed upon the roll-credits, but I think that’s attributed to the marketing of the film. And Hollywood…
The trailers make it seem like the “it” in the title refers to a physical thing—a monster or some equally-terrifying entity—and, as I’ve said, that may very well be the case. However, Shults never entertains that possibility, as (if “it” is, in fact, a real creature) the terror is always just off-camera. This reinforces one of my theories that it may be so horrible, so terrifying, that—as horror writer H.P. Lovecraft posited in many of his works—it is something that a normal, sane person literally cannot see or imagine. While I would absolutely love if this was the case for the film, I’m glad there’s no monster “money shot”; horrors beyond and above us are always scarier when they are an absolute unknown.
In the end, I believe true horror fans—and especially arthouse followers and those familiar with A24’s rap sheet—will reap the most from this film. That doesn’t mean that mainstream audiences are stupid, their film-watching senses have just been anesthetized by the layman’s drivel that is spoon-fed them by the Hollywood money machine. If a trope of horror—no matter how simple, dull, or impractical—ropes in audiences, the same model is re-used. Over and over. Every time. That’s why we get so many damn Annabelle and The Conjuring spin-offs, and so on.
Avoiding the soapbox, I’ll suffice it to say that Hollywood…just doesn’t know horror anymore.
A24, however, does.
Final ‘Risk Assessment: *****/
Next review: Rough Night