The film makes for the second feature of Trey Edward Shults, whose family drama Krisha (2015) drew critical raves. Unseen by me, the latter film was most often acclaimed for concocting an atmosphere comprising such potent tension and dread that it felt like a horror movie.
Watching It Comes at Night, it’s evident that Shults is a filmmaker disinterested in indulging in genre predictabilities. What he finds more interesting than a bump in the night or a supernatural antagonistic force is how characters are impacted by these aforementioned threats.
The movie’s draw is its reliance on emotional turmoil to spark suspense; it’s the unheard of horror feature in which tense relationships and the unraveling of one’s sanity are scarier than any ghoul.
The feature is set in the North American backwoods, where a decidedly fragile family is struggling to survive amidst a background of disease and death. As the film opens, the family’s patriarch has just fallen victim to the illness, and, consequently, is killed by his brood before infection makes him rabid.
This, then, leaves everyone, including father Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), on edge. Having thought they were mostly immune to the dangers of the outside world thanks to their secluded hideaway, the death signifies a susceptibility they don’t want to admit to themselves.
Then another family enters the picture. Out of nowhere arrives Will (Christopher Abbott), his wife Kim (Riley Keough), and their son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), with Will proclaiming that their sudden appearance is a result of trying to find fresh water. Traumatized by the experience of having to off his father-in-law, Paul’s fine with the idea of turning the clan away, perhaps with a gallon or two in hand.
But Sarah sees an opportunity: if they have more people living in the home, there’s a greater chance of survival if a threat does make its way onto the scene. The convincing doesn’t take long, and shortly after are the two families living peacefully on the property.
But then It Comes at Night unravels, the various strains between the characters widening until they reveal a center blood and fury. If the finale of the movie feels abrupt, it’s only because we figure Shults is trying to best represent the cycle that has endured for months preceding the film’s events: a point of routine and tranquility begins, only to be ruined by paranoia and, eventually, death. In a world where every day might be your last, of course living with strangers, without a problem in sight, is not destined to be a long-lasting venture.
Because it was marketed as a horror movie, It Comes at Night was not well-received by the public, earning a D grade on CinemaScore as an effect of ultimately lacking the promised genre thrills. But to be disappointed in the film for not being exactly what distributors marketed is a mistake of a takeaway. This is an uncanny exercise in suspense, and is, for all intents and purposes, one of 2017’s great horror movies, effectively acted and effectively chilling. B+
Trey Edward Shults
Kelvin Harrison, Jr.
1 Hr., 31 Mins.
It Comes at Night
iskily, psychological thriller It Comes at Night (2017) downplays the obvious horrors which might have made it an average genre film. On the surface, it is a zombie movie, finding its setting in an America that’s been ravaged by a disease so deadly that the very thought of becoming infected by it is the scariest prospect since Donald Trump becoming president on Election Day. But inherently, the film is about the horrors of human nature, and how fighting for survival is capable of bringing out one’s most brutal qualities. All men, it proclaims, are capable of perpetuating violence.