It Comes At Night | Trey Edward Shults | June 9, 2017
Following his well-received and impressive debut film Krisha, director Trey Edward Shults follows up his harrowing family drama with It Comes At Night – a different family drama of sorts, just set in a lonely isolated state of horror.
It Comes At Night takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, focusing on one family and their fight for survival. They’re led by Paul (Joel Edgerton), the patriarch of the family, his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). We learn that there’s some sort of sickness spreading, as the opening scene shows Bud (David Pendleton), Sarah’s father, struggling with this illness, with the family making a tough but necessary decision to prevent the illness from infecting them.
There are many new necessities in this world that the family takes in order to stay alive. Their house is boarded up, and there are two sets of locked doors that always stay locked. No one can leave through the ominous red door after locked, as Paul is the only one with the key to unlock it.
As if things aren’t tough enough, the unexpected arrival of Will (Christopher Abbott), another survivor who they catch trying to break into the house at night, creates an even more complex situation for Paul. Will claims he too has a family and that they are in desperate need of help in order to survive, pleading with Paul and his family to take them in. Paul does want to help, but he puts his family first and doesn’t know if the two families can coexist, or even if he can trust them.
Paul goes with Will to see if his story holds up, and upon returning, he brings back Will, as well as his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). At first, the two families establish an idealistic life together, enjoying the company of someone other than their own family. But the film hints at something more sinister when Paul warns his son not to get too used to them being there, as he still wasn’t sure if you could trust them.
Edward Shults, who also wrote the script, only hints at the otherworldly horrors or illness haunting this current world. Aside from some creepy and tense dream sequences with long tracking shots down a dark creaky hallway at night, most of the scares are left to the imagination of the viewer. In essence, the real horror in It Comes At Night comes from the humans and their inability to trust one another, as well as the lengths one will go to protect themselves and their own.
It Comes At Night will surely disappoint those who are looking for cheap jump scares (the marketing may mislead some people looking for more mainstream sort of horror, just as The Witch seemed to) or violent bloody gore. This is a simple and subtle psychological horror affair. Shults doesn’t dumb it down or provide every answer, but instead trusts his audience to think and fend for themselves, just as his characters do.
The small but effective cast is fronted by the two patriarchs of the family, led by strong performances from Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott. Edgerton is great, as usual, and Abbott proves that his decision to leave Girls during its peak was actually quite a smart move. The story actually does unfold from the viewpoint of Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s character Travis, and the young actor offers a quiet but effective performance that the film needs in order to succeed. Carmen Ejogo and Keough shine in their respective roles, with some bigger moments waiting for them during the film’s eventual tense climax.
The mood is kept by cinematographer Drew Daniels, who dazzles with some impressive camerawork that has a floaty quality that really keeps you on edge, and immerses the viewer deep into the shadows. The score by Brian McOmber is just as unsettling, really keeping your mind into this bleak and somber world at large.
Two features in and Shults has shown a knack for telling some tense and captivating family dramas where familial values and motives are the main focus. Sure, there’s a tenseness to It Comes At Night that seems like a horror film on the surface, but at its core, this is a drama about families and humanity as a whole.
It’s a rather bleak affair that doesn’t necessarily tie everything up nicely or have a happy ending (casual audiences will probably hate the ending), but for those that are looking for a smart and engaging thriller, you know what to see this weekend.