-The start of the “Dark Universe” is pretty hit and miss, while It Comes at Night manages to be fairly thrilling, even if it isn’t what you’d expect.
It wouldn’t be a Blockbuster movie in the modern era if it wasn’t connected to some overall plan to make more than ten movies out of the same series of recycled properties. This goes directly toward Universal’s cash-grab idea of attempting to reboot their monster properties (The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, etc.) into a larger network of connected films where the monsters are all related in the same timeline. While this is definitely a stronger restart than a film like Dracula Untold, it leaves a lot to be desired, and the negative reviews have the creators wondering about what their next step will be. The negative reviews, attributable to a near critical panning, is a little harsh. There’s some fun to be had with an infectious Tom Cruise, some decent stunts, and some fun jump-scare action moments, but the overall storytelling, plot-lines, and conclusion really bury the movie under all of this pressure for future sequels.
It really follows a very similar set-up to the 1990s Mummy movies. Two explorers, Tom Cruise’s Nick and Jake Johnson’s Chris, happen upon an ancient Egyptian tomb that appears more like a system of traps to avoid access rather than a shrine to the afterlife. They are met there by Nick’s ex and fellow explorer Jennifer (Annabelle Wallis), an associate of “Prodigium,” a CIA-like intelligence agency that specializes in neutralizing the threat of monsters, run by Russell Crowe in an unspecified role (I don’t want to spoil it for you if you don’t know). Being in the tomb awakens Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian goddess who turns to Set, a deity of evil, to help win her blood-right to the kingdom back. As Ahmanet awakens and starts raging terror, Nick notices he has a supernatural connection with her, and must work alongside Prodigium to stop stop her.
If there’s one huge benefit this movie gets, it’s that it gets the help of Tom Cruise in the lead role. It’s clear that he campaigned for more realistic set pieces and action moves on site, and worked to execute the best scene of the movie, a huge plane crash that is seen in the trailers. Getting Cruise to effectuate so many of the better pieces of this movie helps us really get invested in the action scenes, and he’s a fine dramatic actor as well. Getting him to sign on, and hopefully be in future installments, will help get this series some international lift, as he’s one of the few true movie-stars left in the industry. He’s bolstered by a pretty lackluster supporting cast. Annabelle Wallis has yet to impress me in anything, and Sofia Boutella does fine work as The Mummy, even if her entire character arc is just to attempt to become more attractive with each human she consumes. Plenty of critics have criticized Jake Johnson, who is most famous from Fox’s “New Girl,” (I love that show) but his comic relief actually works with the tone of this movie.
Truthfully, the stuff that doesn’t work is the desire for the film to get more serious in incorporating the themes that will later be used in subsequent films. The comic relief (such as the buddy comedy elements between Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson) really help the film, and then these moments are buttressed by over-the-top action sets that feature violent zombies and fun suspense. (There’s a scene in the middle of the forest where the Mummy walks toward our characters like Jason Voorhees, and it’s hilarious.) When the movie is trying to be fun, and manages to be silly in spite of itself, The Mummy has moments where it’s almost passable.
I’m not sure whether to chalk it up to the direction or vast studio pressure that registers way beyond the scope of the director’s vision, but there are clear signals that this movie is divided up into several parts, each corresponding to the different party’s hand in the pot. We have the clear revisit to the old mummy themes and the positive factors that I listed above, but then we have this side project with Prodigium, the film’s pace grinds to a halt to explore a system of characters and settings that we will be seeing in future Monster movies. Russell Crowe is a big part of this seemingly random plug-in of additional information, and he does feel a little out of place. Crowe is a fantastic actor, but he doesn’t quite get us interested in all of this side stuff.
Overall, The Mummy has fun, campy, and occasionally scary moments, but is weighed down by competing visions and side plots that derail any momentum that the film starts to get. Then, the third act “boss fight” where the Mummy is confronted is a complete waste of time.
The Mummy (2017)
Director: Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, and Russell Crowe
RT Score: 17%
Do not watch the trailer before you see this movie.
I know that everyone has been talking about it, but I figured I’d mention the fact that the marketing for It Comes at Night was seriously dishonest, and placed hope in traditional horror fans that this would be a traditional horror film. It’s not.
There has been issues with this problem in the past with movies like The Babadook, but It Comes at Night is the most egregious misstep in marketing out of all these “horror” movies, because this movie isn’t really a horror movie. It’s more of a slow-burn thriller, but has been presented as the kind of scary movie to get teens in the seats. It’s a huge mistake that will pick at the overall crowd enjoyment of the movie, and I will honestly admit that my expectations for what I was going to see did not meet the reality that I actually saw.
The film is in a post-apocalyptic United States, with a small family living alone right after their grandfather succumbs to the mysterious disease. There’s the cautious dad (Joel Edgerton), equipped with weapons, multiple locked doors, boarded windows, and gas masks to attempt to not only get infected, but protect their property from looters. His wife (Carmen Ejogo) and son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) follow his lead. The son struggles to sleep at night, and suffers from vivid nightmares.
One day, a young man named Will (Christopher Abbott) attempts to get into their house, not knowing it was occupied. He says he has a wife and son back at their other property, but issues of trust, paranoia, and protectiveness cause an uneasy alliance between the parties that could lead to disastrous consequences.
A few things to know up front: the movie is acted beautifully and shot beautifully. This is a competently made, emotional film that builds an overall sense of dread very effectively. It blurs lines between nightmares and reality, and has a few moments of actual terror. However, the point of the movie is to be more of an isolated thriller that picks at our consciousness with small bits of information that we attempt to piece together. I’m not entirely convinced that all of the possible answers to the questions in this movie are answered, and the themes are probably meant to be vague, but it’s occasionally frustrated to always feel a half-step behind the movie. I like films that make you think, but intentionally withholding important information that isn’t in the film is a little bit of an annoyance.
Also, the ending is not great. Be prepared to go through the ending without the reaction that the film wants you to have.
Overall, though, the acting and presentation is too beautiful to ignore. The movie poster that has the dog barking at the black night really describes the paranoia that this film goes for; that what is left unseen is just as scary as what we have seen. The production and art-style vision does positively outweigh any problems I have with the screenplay or ending.
It Comes at Night (2017)
Director: Trey Edward Shults (Krisha)
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbott, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Riley Keough
RT Score: 86%