Consistency of tone is essential for a successful psychological horror story. In It Comes at Night, writer-director Trey Edward Shultz establishes an unyielding bleakness that completely permeates the entirety of his post-apocalyptic story. The constant pressure of this mood grows and oppresses the viewer, like an emotional constrictor squeezing all hope and joy from the proceedings. In short: It Comes at Night is not a fun or pleasant viewing experience, and it is clear from the opening shot that this is not a world where things turn out well. Its dogged pursuit of desolation is not mere pessimism – it’s an exploration of human fear, mistrust, and desperation.
In Loving, Writer-director Jeff Nichols expertly relays the real-life story of Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple who were prosecuted under Virginia’s interracial marriage laws which and led to the watershed case in the Supreme Court Loving v. Virginia in 1967. In a story fraught with such racial tensions and the potential for ugly subject matter, the major triumph of Nichols’s film is in how it remains reserved and above any kind of melodrama. There is a patient, quiet quality to this story, and Nichols and his actors positively revel in it. From the tone and themes of the film, to the pacing and muted performances, Loving takes its cue from the seriousness and maturity of its eponymous main characters. The result is a grown-up historical drama revealing the more subtle horrors of institutional racism and the power that love and freedom have to combat it.
The threat of physical violence is omnipresent in Scott Cooper’s muted crime drama, Black Mass. The narrative focuses on the Faustian bargain between FBI agent John Connolly and his childhood friend and mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger. As both men climb the ranks of their respective worlds, Connolly’s craft is subterfuge and deception; Bulger’s is intimidation and brute force. Though the card house tumbles eventually, neither the fall nor the resolution are the crux of this story. We may have come for the crime drama, but Cooper’s film strength is in the contemplation of Connolly’s misplaced loyalty towards Bulger, which the gangster wantonly exploits.