TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (Movie Review)

Transformers5
*1/2 out of ****
Rated PG-13

(for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo)
Released: June 22, 2017
Runtime: 150 minutes
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, Isabela Moner, Josh Duhamel, Jerrod Carmichael, Stanley Tucci, Santiago Cabrera

Transformers movies are the worst. Just ask anyone. Yet Michael Bay keeps making them because, despite being the most popular franchise to mock and ridicule, people keep watching them.

Loud. Bombastic. Chaotic. Indulgent. A soulless metal-on-metal orgy of violence that’s both headache inducing and mind-numbing all at the same time, not to mention utterly confusing. Read any previous scathing review aimed at the first four movies in the Transformers saga (Parts 2 through 4 especially) and the same gripes will apply here in this fifth – and allegedly final – installment, Transformers: The Last Knight.

This time around, Bay expands the ever-evolving makeshift mythos to reveal that the alien Autobots have been helping protect Planet Earth for 1600 years. Now, however, they’re deemed threats to world order, so they’re being rounded up by a military task force. Cade Yeagar (Mark Wahlberg) is also a wanted man, covertly trekking the world to help rescue Transformers from capture, and living at a secret junkyard base that also serves as an Autobot sanctuary.

How this low-tech refuge eludes the tracking capabilities of the U.S. government is a mystery (well, until the movie needs it to be found), but plot holes and logical inconsistences are all part of this franchise’s milieu. Nevertheless, when the task force makes a deal with the devils – aka Decepticons – to find the stray Autobots, the cover for Yeagar’s getaway is blown, and everything else starts to blow up with it.

There’s a whole other layer, too, about the discovery of a link between Earth and Cybertron (the Transformer planet). This new information puts Earth in peril, turns Optimus Prime to Nemesis Prime, and it all builds up toward – you guessed it – a possible apocalypse.

For excessive measure, there’s a mythology thread that I don’t even have the energy to get into but, suffice it to say, it turns Yeagar into a Chosen One and the new academic hottie Vivian (Laura Haddock, aka Star-Lord’s mom Meredith Quill) into the final link in a family tree dating back to Merlin the magician, making her the sole genetic heir who can access an ancient relic and stop the devastation that’s coming. This would also seem to imply that Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky is dead now, but really, who cares?

The worst part of Bay’s patented obnoxious moviemaking is its pace. Scenes and shots are cut so quickly, and constantly, that your ability to process what you’re watching can’t keep up. It’s a real shame, too, because the lush, meticulous images that Bay crafts are actually pretty spectacular, especially with IMAX cameras. He just can’t sit on one for more than a second or two, and it’s maddening.

For all the frenzied nonsense that this movie vomits up and onto the screen, in a style so kinetically incoherent that it’s impossible to keep everything and everyone straight, the film’s worst attribute is actually its run time. Cut an hour out of its two-and-a-half hour length, make it a tight 90-minute special effects fireworks show of things blowing up real good (ditch the belabored mythology and flat robot comedy bits especially), and you’ve got yourself a dumb-but-thrilling multiplex movie ride.

Instead, like the others before it, Transformers: The Last Knight is a pummeling assault of visual and auditory monotony that would be fun if it didn’t relentlessly wear you down, and out.

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THE BOOK OF HENRY (Movie Review)

bookofhenry
* out of ****
Rated PG-13

(for thematic elements and brief strong language)
Released: June 16, 2017
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring:  Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Dean Norris, Sarah Silverman, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler, Bobby Moynihan

Colin Trevorrow’s powers of persuasion are infinitely greater than his powers of storytelling, because it absolutely boggles the mind how he was able to convince any adult human person to help him make The Book of Henry.

From broad concept to actual specifics, The Book of Henry is such an affront to common sense and the basic functions of how day-to-day reality works that the only conceivable reaction to reading this script would be, one would think, “You can’t be serious.”

The fact that this film exists – with legitimate theatrical distribution, no less, complete with actual marketing – is a testament to how much leeway industry professionals will grant a person who has successfully managed a blockbuster franchise (Jurassic World, in the case of Trevorrow).

Mishmashing a grabbag of ideas into the clunkiest of narratives, The Book of Henry goes from precious to perverse to preposterous in a series of whiplash inducing swings. How else can one describe a film that throws pedophilia into the crosshairs of a child prodigy’s coming of age story, granting his intellectual genius the moral authority to validate a vigilante license to kill, then drops in a terminal illness for good measure, and expects you to embrace it all with the warm nostalgia of a suburbia-set Spielberg classic?

It’s all so utterly absurd that even a Lifetime network exec would scoff at the notion of greenlighting this mess.

Jaeden Lieberher (Midnight Special) is the tween-age genius Henry who lives with his diner-waitress single mom Susan (Naomi Watts) and younger brother Peter (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) in the impossibly twee-decorated home of a working mother so tight with her budget that she nags her boys to not waste syrup at breakfast because “that stuff’s expensive”.

That tiny anecdotal nitpick is actually a good example of the logical inconsistencies that are writ large across the entire landscape of this movie, one that manufactures the facsimile of human behavior from a Hollywood contrivance machine.

It’s hard not to spiral down into a long list of implausibilities that this movie expects you to buy at face value so, short of doing that, it’s fair to say that the fundamental problems here are a writer (author Gregg Hurwitz, in his screenplay debut) so in love with his ideas that he’s blind to their incredulity, and a director so equally fascinated by them that his hubris thinks he can sell them.

Of the two, Trevorrow’s is probably the more delusional because he thinks a cheesy, schmaltzy tone will win our hearts over (just the opposite occurs) before he grabs us with the suspense of a “How To Get Away With Justifiable Homicide” thriller, all told with too-cute self-conscious dialogue that thinks its cleverness will mask its expository laziness (it doesn’t).

How it tries to set aside our most obvious question of “Well, isn’t there another option than, oh, I dunno, murder?” and the credible alternatives any sane person would jump to is the epitome of this movie’s insults.

In Henry’s book, there are topic headers that reflect, verbatim, all of our questions. These headers are followed by Henry’s detailed reasoning, at full thesis level one would assume, as to why murder is the only option…yet the movie never has any character actually read or reveal the reasoning laid out in Henry’s book. It just zips by the topic headers and expects us, the audience, to assume that the kid’s reasoning (whatever it may be) is valid because, well, he’s a precocious genius, so just go with it.

To dig further into this disaster would be to pick apart a litany of spoilers, ones I won’t detail so as not to undercut the pure experience of being gobsmacked by this train wreck. It is the most bizarre must-see movie for all the wrong reasons. But for a taste of its WTF audacity, I’ll add that it chooses to complicate its climactic hit job assassination with a Rube Goldberg machine.

Simply put, The Book of Henry is one of the most egregious miscalculations by a filmmaker that I have ever seen.

PARIS CAN WAIT (Movie Review)

ParisCanWait
**1/2 out of ****
Rated PG

(for thematic elements, smoking, and some language)
Released:  May 12, 2017 NY/LA; June 16, 2017 wide
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Eleanor Coppola
Starring: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Alec Baldwin,
Élodie Navarre (Laura Karpman)

Leave the movie, eat some cannoli.

At the spry age of 81, Eleanor Coppola – wife of Francis Ford and mother to Sofia, both Oscar-winning auteurs – makes her directorial debut with Paris Can Wait, a jaunty Euro road trip with all of the necessary ingredients for a sumptuous art house truffle. There is much here to warm the heart and put a soothing smile on your face but, alas, Coppola’s strengths are in producing, not directing.

Her keen eye for gathering the right resources (this movie has virtually everything it needs) doesn’t transpose artistically; few of the film’s treats work together in an effective or endearing organic harmony. Each element is divinely sophisticated, but the collective whole rarely is.

In this frothy bit of Chic Lit cinema, Diane Lane – who became like family to the Coppolas during her young collaborations with Francis in The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and The Cotton Club – plays Anne, the wife of a hard-working Hollywood producer named Michael (Alec Baldwin, who literally phones in most of his performance).

He’s inattentive, distracted by work emergencies, and clueless as to how he subordinates Anne’s life to his own, yet even as Michael takes his wife for granted he’s still clearly in love with her. Nevertheless he’s in serious need of a wakeup call, she needs some appreciation, and they’re both are about to get it.

In a rush to leave Cannes for Paris, Anne’s travel options fall apart in the first of several forced contrivances. Her remaining alternative? Go with Jacques (French actor Arnaud Viard), a French business associate of Michael’s who’s headed that way via highway himself. She takes the offer, and the two set out on a luxurious travelogue from the southern Croisette to the northern capital, every mile filled with lush locales, museums and landmarks, sunny sights, and foodie delights.

This is a movie so, of course, the possibility of forbidden romance looms, although for Anne it’s ultimately an emotional fling, not a sexual one. She’s assessing her midlife, where the rest of it goes from here, and if Michael’s in the picture, but it all stays an easy breezy affair, not a tawdry or tormented one.

Jacques, however, seems to have more amorous designs on his mind, each coyly suggested but in increasing measure. Meant to give the excursion its jolt of romance (or, at least for Anne, a reawakening of passion), Jacques’ would-be catalytic presence fails with surprising consistency because, at least here, Arnaud Viard is not a compelling romantic figure or muse. He’s scripted to provide a slow-burning spark that Anne should find difficult to resist, but Viard’s cavalier approach makes Jacques awkward, and occasionally creepy, not swoon worthy.

Despite his vast insights as a tour guide, with an attention to detail and Anne’s experience of it, Jacques’ advances (whether in look, insinuation, or gesture) feel intrusive, not welcome. He’s easy going, amiable, and observant, but there’s no charm there. Instead, Jacques simply comes off as what he actually is: a vivacious associate of Anne’s husband who has good taste but oversteps his bounds while leeching an extended vacation off of her credit cards.

She rebuffs his most direct signals, which makes sense given how clumsy they are, yet it’s clear that Coppola would have us believe Anne does so while resisting a desire to give in. The fact that Anne and Jacques confess a meaningful connection between each other is hard to believe.

Lane does her best to create some chemistry, sometimes working too hard for it (though it’s hard to blame her), but Viard is simply not attractive or alluring, thus nullifying Jacques’ primary function. A simple bit of recasting, say, with Best Actor Oscar winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) would’ve made a world of difference, and helped smooth over Coppola’s directorial rough edges.

Or better yet, Paris Can Wait would’ve been more compelling, and empowering, had Anne made the journey of her own volition, within her own agency, as a proactive choice to take stock, find herself, and do it on her terms, and not on the whims of a cad. Sure, if you want some romance, give her some winking dalliances along the way, maybe even a profound (if brief) connection, but the presence of Jacques ends up compromising Anne’s arc of self-discovery, and reduces it to a gossipy anecdote.

Composer Laura Karpman’s Riviera-tinged jazz does much of the tonal heavy lifting, and to the extent you’re transported during these ninety minutes it’s due to her music (seriously, make this score – available on Spotify – the soundtrack to your summer) and cinematographer Crystel Fournier’s picturesque frames, from gorgeous landscapes to glossy still life.

Paris Can Wait is the movie equivalent of a French weekend getaway, complete with vicarious flirtations, yet you’ll end up rooting for Baldwin’s dolt of a husband to come around more than you will for Anne to indulge in some “justified” tryst. I suspect Coppola was hoping for the reverse, given how the film ends on an obvious cue for a second trip, but the only new holiday worth taking is the one where Anne sets out on her own, still heard through Karpman’s ear and seen through Fournier’s eye.

CARS 3 (Movie Review)

McQueenCruz
*** out of ****
Rated G
(for all audiences)
Released:  June 16, 2017
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: Brian Fee
Starring: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Armie Hammer, Nathan Fillion, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger

The word “obscene” is not an adjective one normally associates with Pixar, but that’s exactly the kind of cash grab that Cars 2 was. Nothing more than a merchandise promo in feature length form, that eye-popping but soulless sequel is the low point for Hollywood’s premier animation studio.

The prospect of a third felt not only unnecessary but truly cynical, so it comes as a relief to find that Cars 3 is a nice heartfelt tune-up for the anthropomorphic racing car franchise. It’s no classic, but after a bumpy start this finds its heartfelt inside lane once again.

With a three-act structure that goes, respectively, from conventional to sentimental to surprising, Cars 3 starts sluggish but finishes strong. Our introduction back into this world is barely better than where we last left it. Sure, it starts colorful, cute, and fast-paced, but the script doggedly sets up the story’s premise and conflict, one that predictably laps what you’d expect from a third go-around.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), the sport’s top race car, is passed up by the latest hotshot rookie Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), causing McQueen to confront the possibility that retirement may be forced upon him even while he still has a need for speed. One more race will tell the tale, and it could be his last.

Yawn. The movie has energy, but inspiration it doesn’t. Plus, the humor isn’t even half-hearted, barely squeezing out racing puns and little else.

The remainder of the film’s first third meanders through a hodgepodge of better sequences: a brief soul-searching return pit-stop to Radiator Springs, followed by an overwhelming high tech training center, and then an undercover entry in a dirt car mudtrack event. There’s some clever bits here and there, thankfully, and the smooth, even graceful car animation still ranks among some of Pixar’s best work, but on the whole it feels like a random collection of leftover ideas scrapped from the first two films.

The best thing to emerge from all of this is Cruz Ramierz (relative newcomer Cristela Alonozo), the top trainer at the state of the art racing facility. She is a feisty, motivational coach who knows which buttons to push in order to get the best out of her racers. A lively bond forms between Cruz and McQueen; it’s sometimes oil-and-water but always amiable and charming. Better still, they both have things to learn from each other.

Like the original, Cars 3 is at its best when it slows down for meaningful character moments. The film’s middle section downshifts considerably to this end and, subsequently, ramps up its appeal; McQueen and Cruz find an old town off the beaten path with a special history that, for Lightning, strikes a deep personal connection.

There, he’s mentored by an old retired legend named Smokey (Chris Cooper). On the surface this narrative turn bares an all-too-familiar construct to the dynamic between McQueen and Paul Newman’s now-deceased Doc Hudson, yet it’s also where the movie finds itself. It does so by rediscovering the heart that fueled the first film to begin with, one that came from a very personal place for Pixar chief John Lasseter, and it proves meaningful to watch McQueen reconnect with those core values once more.

This is where Cruz comes into her own as well, rising from sidekick catalyst to a character with dreams and passions of her own, driven by her own sense of urgency (and agency). Cruz’s arc is as fulfilling as McQueen’s, and both get an emotional turbo boost by the fact that their journeys are inextricably bound.

Indeed, the film’s final stretch proves to be much more of a payoff than I was anticipating, especially when the race takes an unexpectedly meaningful turn. McQueen discovers how he can retire on his own terms, and in a way that is magnanimously selfless.

Cars 3 could be a fitting, satisfying end to a series that briefly lost its way, but it could just as easily be a set up for a Next Gen upgrade reboot that would be more welcome than I’d have previously believed.

Regardless, even for a sequel that was made primarily for Disney’s corporate coughers than it was to meet any fan demand, it’s heartening to see Pixar invest its soul once again into the story that it’s telling. No wonder the film ended up working so well; that soul ended up being at the heart of Lightning McQueen’s story, too.

OFCC Podcast: Episode 9 – WONDER WOMAN, MUMMY, IT COMES AT NIGHT, & More (PODCAST)

ofcc

Episode 9: Wonderful Woman, Mummy Revival, and Night Masterpiece

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, a roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle discuss the latest in movies for early June 2017.

You can also stream Episode 9 by clicking here.

On this episode, the roundtable includes:

NEW RELEASES
Wonder Woman (starting at 1:04)
The Mummy (2017) (at 13:10)
It Comes At Night (at 22:55)
Baywatch (at 26:47)
War Machine (at 52:53)
My Cousin Rachel (at 1:02:20)

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the June 9, 2017 episode.

THE MUMMY (2017) (Movie Review)

MummyHole
*** out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for violence, action and scary images, language, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity)
Released:  June 9, 2017
Runtime: 110 minutes
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance

I couldn’t care less about Mummy mythology or its cinematic history dating back 85 years to Boris Karloff, but what I can tell you is that I really enjoyed this Mummy movie, how its characters are woven into its admittedly perfunctory mythos, and the ride they – and we – are taken on.

My hunch is that director Alex Kurtzman feels the same way. One doesn’t sense a strict adherence to any previous Mummy source in this modernized spin, or even that Kurtzman himself had a specific love or passion for its lore. Indeed, his primary focus is to launch Universal’s interconnected “Dark Universe” franchise that looks to resurrect the studio’s classic movie monsters: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man, and many more.

To his credit, Kurtzman has a lot of fun devising a truly blockbuster spectacle in the most popcorniest sense, and avoids getting bogged down in too much requisite universe building. It’s all anchored by fun set pieces, a few legitimate surprises, and one of the world’s most enduring (and seemingly ageless) movie stars.

The best way to describe what Kurtzman brings to the table is to point out one crucial fact: Kurtzman is a J.J. Abrams protégé.

Writing for screens both big and small defined his career with Abrams, and The Mummy is a clear product of that history (sans lens flares), perhaps most clearly a spawn of the ABC spy action show Alias which incorporated a mythology of its own. Given that Tom Cruise first connected with Abrams over Alias as well (hiring the TV guru to direct Mission: Impossible III after binging on the Jennifer Garner series), the sensibilities of Cruise and Kurtzman now collaborating here couldn’t be more in sync.

Sure, the movie cuts a few corners and rushes occasional beats that don’t hold up to basic scrutiny, but nitpicking a lack of airtight logic from a story about the rise of an ancient undead evil is to take this more seriously than it even wants you to. Moreover, within its own internal logic, The Mummy asks us to give it a pass only on rare occasions. The necessary allowances are momentary and don’t cripple the whole. In return, we’re given lot of bang for our bucks.

Cruise slips into one of his more familiar screen personas, a charming ne’er-do-well cocksure thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie named Nick Morton. He has a fetish for antiquities and hidden treasure, and he sells his ill-gotten loot to the highest bidder. A noble archeologist, he ain’t.

After a belabored prologue of generic ancient backstory, the film’s first fifteen minutes allow Cruise to have fun riffing on the Indiana Jones template before shifting its genre gears into straight-up action horror. That flip occurs when Nick and his partner in crime Chris (Jake Johnson, the New Girl star who makes every movie he’s in instantly better) stumble upon an Egyptian grave. It triggers the resurrection of a 2,000-year-old mummified Princess who embarks on a quest for revenge over a grudge she’s held for two millennia.

In the process, Nick is struck by a curse that seals his fate as a tool in her scheme. With the help of Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), the actual archeologist of this crusade, and her boss Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) – yes, that Dr. Jekyll (he’s essentially the Nick Fury of the Dark Universe) – the trio fights to stop this wicked corpse from killing Nick and unleashing her evil.

The script has its share of information to unpack, and sometimes you can feel those machinations turn (particularly when characters simply spew exposition), but overall Kurtzman shows a flair for moving things along at a brisk pace while keeping the important beats clear.

And the story, while not particularly inventive, is a well-crafted plot machine that hums right along with its share of twists and turns, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek wit mixed with barbed romantic banter. Cruise and Wallis share an effective quarrelsome chemistry and sharp comedic timing, as do Cruise and Crowe whose polar opposites of the swaggering dumb American and stuffy intellectual Brit play off each other rather well.

While there’s plenty of digital effects to go around, Cruise still orchestrates some of the most daring – and literally staged – stunts in the movies today. Most notable here is the Zero-G plane crash sequence highlighted in the film’s trailers, one in which the interior footage is entirely legit. Most movies would produce this in front of a green screen with actors on wires, enhanced by more digital trickery, but Cruise is still game (and defiantly able) to push himself, both in this scene and others, even in his mid-50s.

The fact that Cruise commits to such harrowing work instantly puts his action scenes ahead of most in this modern era of digital cheating. As a result, these sequences automatically feel more authentic, and thrilling, because they are.

Kurtzman doesn’t display the knack for emotional sentiment that Abrams does (though perhaps he’s not even trying to), but he nevertheless shows a real skill for delivering a slick Hollywood tentpole that actually goes for big cinematic scope rather than hyper-kinetic monotony.

The early buzz on The Mummy already has it looking dead on arrival, but for audiences open to giving it a chance they’ll be pleasantly surprised. This is a fun movie. And even if it underperforms, Universal’s commitment to the Dark Universe will likely go unabated, as it should. Regardless of box office or critical reception, The Mummy is a solid foundation (if also a disposable entertainment) for a multi-film franchise that’s just getting started.

IT COMES AT NIGHT (Movie Review)

ICAN_SonDoor
**** out of ****
Rated R
(for violence, disturbing images, and strong language)
Released:  June 9, 2017
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough

I’ve never seen nihilism imbued with so much humanity.

Like a more accessible David Lynch film, fueled by the same palpable slow burn of dread (rather than the cheap shocks of slasher gore or torture porn), It Comes At Night is an all-consuming visceral experience from first frame to last.

It’s a horror movie that doesn’t get bogged down in mythology or lore, nor does it suffer the insecurity of laborious exposition. This is a tight, taught, unrelenting 90 minutes of pure harrowing survival.

The less you know the better, not only as you read this review but, per writer/director Trey Edward Shults’ keen narrative restraint, even during the movie itself. Avoiding backstory entirely, we are given strictly the immediate present: holed up in a forest home, a couple and their young adult son struggle to protect themselves from an unseen evil. They live (barely) in some sort of post-apocalyptic world, caused by a pathogen rather than a war. If infected, the results aren’t merely lethal but nasty.

Something lurks out in woods, too, and whatever it is that comes at night, it’s a thing that goes more than bump.

The dad, Paul (Joel Edgerton), has a system for everything, from day-to-day living to response protocol for dangers. This delicate balance is potentially threatened when a daytime intruder breaks into their home, a young man seeking shelter for his wife and boy. After wrestling with the worst-case possibilities, not to mention an arduous interrogation of the intruder, the family agrees to give them refuge (albeit very reluctantly for Paul).

Existence in this world is so fragile, with resources so few and safety so tenuous, that fostering trust is simultaneously a desperate yet futile endeavor. No matter how trustworthy new strangers may be, even over time, what’s built can be lost in an instant and by no fault of anyone. The whole stressful reality creates a gnawing underlying tension that’s impossible to shake.

What unfolds isn’t merely a tale of escalating, compounding fear, but an examination of the fight to sustain hope when life only offers endings, not beginnings. Of maintaining normalcy, even levity, in the face of inevitable doom. Or the fear that creeps in when there’s no understanding or diagnosis for how a plague so deadly is contracted or passed on. As a result, when even the slightest, most innocent abnormality occurs, mind games are unavoidable.

More existentially, what happens when your need to survive is challenged by your conscience, causing you to weigh your ability to live (a gut instinct) against your ability to live with yourself (your soul). What are you willing to risk? Or, when tables turn, even beyond anyone’s control, what cold-blooded savagery are you prepared to inflict in order to protect the ones you love from suffering a particularly gruesome fate? And are you prepared to be barbaric…on a hunch?

This all plays out as new relationship dynamics emerge and situational ethics are colored with more emotional shades, making the plot increasingly unpredictable and weighted with moral stakes. While not a complex or labyrinth tale it’s impossible to know where this thing is going, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out it jerks you in another direction. Uncertainty permeates the film’s entire structure, arc, and atmosphere because it haunts every decision.

The cast embodies all of this not in heightened, melodramatic strokes (although to be clear there is plenty of intense, very high drama) but rather in ones that evoke a deep, even profound compassion for everyone involved. There’s a default sympathy for Paul’s family because they’re the ones that the story first establishes, but it just as easily could’ve shifted that preference to the younger family if it’d told the story from their point of view. Both families are portrayed with equal pity, even as situations force them to make cruel decisions.

UPDATE: Following a conversation with my colleague Charles Elmore on the OFCC Podcast, it’s also fascinating to consider how this plays in parallel to our current culture: the immigration debate, the strangers in our midst, the risk of taking in the refugee, and how fear and uncertainty can poison the well of compassion even when trustworthy conduct is expressed in good faith.

Shults, in only his second outing, wields total command over his material with visionary precision and immense cinematic power. Fulfilling the promise that was apparent even in his microbudgeted debut Krisha (about a dysfunctional Thanksgiving family weekend with real horrors of its own), Shults crafts a tangibly primal experience, not only with his grasp of genre and visual acuity (this is truly, patiently cinematic) but also through an unnerving, unsettling soundscape. Provocative and disturbing but never mindless or heartless, this is a serious work by a serious filmmaker.

Brace yourself to be completely absorbed by a menacing gravitational pull. It Comes At Night is not for the faint of heart, stomach, or psyche, in no small measure because it’s burdened by lament as much as it scares. And in the end, it ultimately doesn’t matter what comes at night. The terror is already there, inside them, as deadly as any disease, and it’s never going to leave.