8 out of 10
Joel Edgerton as Paul
Directed by Trey Edward Shults
It Comes at Night Review:
The “It” in It Comes at Night is more metaphor than monster, but that doesn’t mean that the horror of Trey Edward Shult’s post-apocalyptic film is any less effective. However, in the silly season of blockbusters, a quiet, contemplative film filled with dread and heavy societal themes might not be the ticket for many seeking to be thrilled or scared this summer. The ads aren’t doing the film any favors, either, which is unfortunate, as A24, the independent studio releasing It Comes at Night, is normally pretty good at this sort of thing. So know this going in – while there are very few jump scares to be had, It Comes at Night does achieve a bleakness and a tone that can be very unsettling if you let it in. In the film’s final moments, we are taken to a dark place and abandoned there, forced to deal with our own fears and prejudices, while our principles and beliefs are left to twist in the midnight air. This is not an easy film, and offers little comfort to those seeking easy answers.
There has been a minimalist trend in independent horror as of late, asking the audience to do more heavy lifting than they may be used to, and for horror fans looking for more superficial thrills, they may not enjoy what they have been seeing. But horror is probably the most topical of genres, for a variety of reasons, and has its finger closest to the pulse of what bothers and disturbs us. There is a lot to read into It Comes at Night, from politics, to religion, to race relations, and even to how we treat our children. Trey Shults is an expert at building tension subtly, but with economy – while our hopes for the best are engaged, we can see the worst coming, inexorably, for these characters.
It is a time of disease. A sickness has swept America, and when the film opens we are thrown face-to-face with the horrible nature of it, as we watch Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) quietly dispose of Sarah’s stricken father, burning the body in a hole in the ground. Paul, Sarah, and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), live a life without compromise – no one gets in the house, no one goes out at night, everyone eats rations and always be with someone at all times when outside. But, inevitably, the outside world must intrude, and when Will (Christopher Abbott) comes looking for food and water, Paul holds him at gunpoint, ties him to a tree, and tortures him until he is sure that Will is not infected. Will has a family of his own, and is desperate to get back to them. Against his nature, Paul decides to help Will bring his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and toddler son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to their house.
To tell more than that would be cheating, but for those expecting some dark twist or sinister motive, Shults has something more disquieting in mind. It comes slowly, but with purpose – a discordant word here, a look there, and the suspicions and worst tendencies of people come to the forefront. I admire that Shults’ script does not provide the audience with any simple explanations, instead slowly tightening the vise and letting us reach our own conclusions. It also helps that Travis is our focal point for the film, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. is wonderful as a boy on the cusp of adulthood, full of urges and emotions that most teenagers his age could barely handle in an ordinary world, much less an infected one. Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo are also terrific, and as we slowly watch things unravel, Edgerton, Ejogo, Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough play off each other in impressive ways.
The final act of It Comes at Night is brutal and not for the emotional faint of heart, taking the audience to horrifying but inevitable places. What Shults is saying about the world at large is for the audience to determine, but it doesn’t look good. I love how cinematographer Drew Daniels tightens the aspect ratio as the film goes on – not very subtle to be sure, but it works. It Comes at Night is only 97 minutes long, but Trey Edward Shults fills those minutes with such dread and power that is quite difficult to shake. In a summer full of cacophony and bluster, It Comes at Night sneaks in and grabs with sharp claws, if you open yourself to it. This is a very effective and disturbing horror film.