Ambiguity can work well in films.
Ambiguity keeps you guessing, keeps you thinking about the film long after it has finished.
It is a creative tool that you don’t often see in blockbusters or typical studio films and when it works it can be fantastic.
Think about Inception, Doubt, Blade Runner, The Blair Witch Project and Black Swan.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for It Comes at Night.
The new mystery film trades in confusion for its entire run time, stringing the audience along, preparing them for a payoff that never comes.
It’s a huge shame that there is no payoff, because the tension writer-director Trey Edward Shults builds is thick and heavy.
He does everything right until the end when the audience is left questioning why they spent an hour and a half following six characters to be left just as in the dark as they started.
The darkness is not just figurative either, it’s very literal – the only light in the film is provided by fire, brief spots of sun or battery-operated torches. It Comes at Night deals primarily in shadow.
The movie is without exposition.
All we know is something strange has happened and people are dying from a sickness which creates boils on their skin.
The world has effectively stopped spinning, civilisation is over, nobody goes to work, nobody is on the streets.
We follow a family of three, Paul, Sarah and Travis (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr), who have just buried one of their own, struck with the mysterious sickness.
Soon they find a man, Will (Christopher Abbott), breaking into their house in the middle of the night.
He claims to have believed the house was abandoned, as the windows are boarded up, and asks for water for his family.
Paul agrees to help Will bring his wife and son to the home, where they will share resources.
What follows is the intricacies of sharing a home with strangers as a means of survival. It’s awkward, there’s a lack of trust and everyone is keeping secrets close to their chest.
And then the cinema lights come up and it’s over.