I've been watching a few films recently. I've finally got a decent streaming service (lol...) and so now it finally makes sense to catch up on all the films I've been missing out on. As the title of the post suggests, I'm going to be talking about two films in particular and why I believe they're more similar than one would initially think. Beyond the breakdown of society, both It Comes at Night and Bushwick forgo the greater events to focus on close personal stories.
It Comes at Night deals with some sort of virus that kills people pretty quickly, and the story focuses on a family that invites another family to live with them. Share the work load, safety in numbers, all that good teamwork stuff. Isolation and preparation are keys to survival here, and there's a focus on trust and what happens when it breaks. People don't believe the backstories that others are telling them, they don't believe others when say they're not sick, and eventually it all falls apart in one of the most horrific endings you could possibly imagine. There're hints of some sort of monster out in the surrounding woodlands, but we never get to see it. Along with this, one of the characters is having some seriously trippy dreams about his dead grandfather throughout the film, so you're never quite sure what is real and what isn't.
Bushwick, on the other hand, is set in New York and deals with American separatists who do what separatists always do - try and separate themselves from the nation. The main story focuses on an ex-soldier/medic and a college student trying to make their way out of the city while the greater conflict rages on around them. It's actually one of those 'one continuous shot' films that, thanks to some nifty editing, follows the characters without ever cutting away. It's brutal, it's action packed and like It Comes at Night is has a downer ending.
Spoilers for both It Comes at Night and Bushwick.
Everyone dies in both of these films, every single main character. In It Comes at Night there's an eventual schism between the families and Joel Edgerton's character stabs the other father, accidentally shots the little boy and then kills the mother when she's hysterically screaming at him to do it. By this point though it's all useless, both families were already infected and the original family loses their son first and then the parents are left sitting at the dinner table just waiting to die.
Bushwick pulls something similar, where Dave Bautista's character finally opens up and gives this heart breaking speech about his troubled past... only to be shot in the face by some scared woman five seconds later. Just when you think Brittany Snow's character is going to push on alone... she gets hit in the leg and similarly capped in the head by one of the separatists.
Both It Comes at Night and Bushwick give us these close and intimate stories set amid grand sweeping events. Society is breaking down all around these characters, people are dying left and right... but the story we're getting is about them in particular. The world may be falling apart but that's too big to deal with, so we're seeing how that happens on a much smaller scale. A few people is enough, we can get to know them and get attached to them and then when they finally die they're not just a number. The point behind this post, is that I think that Bushwick did this better than It Comes at Night.
It Comes at Night gives us hints about the greater world but we never really see past the character's small section of it, so we're never really certain. We hear about cities falling and people fleeing, but that's about it. It never really goes past hearsay. After that, when everyone dies at the end, that's the end of the story. We're not given any context for it within the greater story as a whole. We don't know if similar stories are happening all over, we don't know if there's talk of a cure on the horizon. The view of the world is so focused, and isolated, that when it ends our investment in the world ends. Why did we see this story? What was the point of it all?
Bushwick, on the other hand, solves all this with its final scene. As soon as Brittany Snow's character drops dead the camera pans upward and we see that all of New York city is ablaze and there's conflict all over. The story we've seen is no less important after the character's deaths but we're also shown that the film has been just one of many such stories. People are fighting and dying all over. That final shot puts it all into context. Simply because we've been following these characters in particular, that doesn't make their story any more important than any other.
In a round about way the final shot of Bushwick made the character's deaths more palatable. We got to know these characters but many such people are going through similar events across the city. In It Comes at Night, however, everyone we know has died and we're still given no clue about the outside world. Is there even an outside world? It's sometimes hard to tell with the surreal dream sequences, and the whole thing could just be a dream. By the end of It Comes at Night, you're left asking yourself if the story even matters.
Bushwick and It Comes at Night are both solid films and I'd recommend watching both if you've got a spare evening. What I've taken from viewing both films in quick succession, however, is that if you're going to tell a personal story where everyone dies then be sure to give us some context of the greater world. It doesn't have to be a lot, just let us know what's out there. The characters we follow might not make it but humanity as a whole still can. Wondering if the characters were the last humans alive or if they were just one group of many scattered about the globe, trying to survive whatever apocalypse you cooked up, can leave people a little unsatisfied. Small isolated stories about failure to survive are great, they just need to be put into some context.