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It Comes At Night

Paris Can Wait

June 15, 2017

It Comes at Night

(*1/2) R 

One of the most clichéd tropes in horror films is the dream sequence that turns out to be a fake scare. The audience gets a good emotional jolt only to find out it really didn’t happen and was only a dream. Critics used to take the slasher films of the early 80s to task for the overuse of this device. It Comes at Night, a supposed horror film with an end of the world subtext, does this not once or twice but—by my count—nearly half a dozen times. It’s a device that’s so overused in this film that it actually becomes comical by the end.   

It Comes at Night, the second film from director Trey Edward Shults, whose debut feature, Krisha, was released to heaps of praise last year, is being marketed as part of the horror genre by its distributor, A-24. In the interests of blowing the BS whistle at false advertising I’d like make it clear that It Comes at Night deserves to be labeled a horror film about as much as Schindler’s List needs to be described as being a rollicking, rib tickling comedy. If one were to lump director Shults’ film into a category, the genre of drama would be a more appropriate one. Still, even as a drama, It Comes at Night fails on too many levels to count, the most notable fail being in the storytelling department.    

The film opens ominously as an unidentified old man sits covered in sores while his family says their goodbyes, all of them covered in protective masks and gloves. It’s apparent that the man has some sort of illness but, in the cryptic spirit of the film, we never really learn what is afflicting the man.

Joel Edgerton & Kelvin Harrison Jr. in It Comes At Night

He’s taken outside and promptly put out of his misery. The rest of the film follows what remains of the man’s family as they attempt to maintain the family order while the ‘plague’ rages outside their doors. This is the setup for It Comes at Night.   

The characters in the film are never given names. We know them only as father (Joel Edgerton), mother (Carmen Ejogo) and their teenage son (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.).  One night the father catches another man (Christopher Abbott) attempting to break into the house and steal supplies. The would-be burglar claims his actions are only in the interests of protecting his family, which includes a wife and toddler. The father decides to let the man and his family join them. The rest of the film just lurches on in fits and starts as the suspicions grow but eventually it’s hard to care what happens when director/writer Shults insists upon keeping our emotional investment in the characters at bay.  

It Comes at Night offers no real resolution or story, for that matter. There’s really not much to recommend outside of the film’s doomed-filled atmosphere. Unfortunately, atmosphere does not substitute for good, solid storytelling, a message that someone should relay to the maker of this film.

Paris Can Wait (** ½) PG

In Paris Can Wait, Diane Lane’s character, Anne Lockwood, is a small town girl from the American midwest who ‘grew up eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green peas and didn’t learn about good food until I got to California.’ Now, not so happily married to a hotshot movie mogul (Alec Baldwin), whom she’s accompanied on his latest press junket, Anne opts not to travel by plane to Paris with her husband but instead opts to take the scenic route by car with one of her husband’s business partners, Jacques (Arnaud Viard). Along the way she and Jacques take in the sights, sounds and smells that her journey has to offer and, gradually find themselves revealing some of their innermost emotions to each other, their dashed dreams and regrets among other things. This forms the basis of director/writer Eleanor Coppola’s feature directing debut at the ripe old age of 81 and it’s clearly influenced by some of the early films in her husband Francis Ford Coppola’s canon. And, yes, I’m definitely thinking pre-Godfather here.

The plot really isn’t the thing in Paris Can Wait. As the old adage goes, it’s not about the destination but the journey and it’s a feast for the senses to be sure.

Alec Baldwin, Diane Lane and Arnaud Viard in Paris Can Wait

Most of the film centers around Jacques and Anne constantly stopping on their journey, much to Anne’s consternation who just wants to get to Paris, to take in the French cuisine (lovingly photographed, by the way) and the beautiful outdoors along the way. They reflect on their lives in middle age and eventually develop a bond. I couldn’t help but wonder if director/writer Coppola wasn’t basing this on her own experiences being the wife of a world-renowned filmmaker but I guess that’s something that only she would know.

While it’s true that Paris Can Wait is a bit slight, it’s so easy to digest that it’s hard not to like. It kind of sneaks up on you and, before you know it, you find yourself giving in to its charms and especially its well-defined characters. I hope that Coppola chooses to continue her filmmaking exploits. I’d like to see where she goes next.

It Comes at Night is playing all over this area.

Paris Can Wait opens this Friday, June 16, in Winston-Salem and in Charlotte.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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