“It Comes At Night” Is Bone Shattering From Beginning To End
From the beginning of the film right until the credits roll, It Comes At Night has a tone of dread and despair that is bound to creep up on you when the film ends. There are no jump scares and is only reliant on atmosphere yet the movie is incredibly better for it and it is bound to be the best horror film of the year as far as I’m concerned.
It Comes At Night is set in a post-apocalyptic world where Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) reside in their isolated, bolted up house. They only go outside to retrive water and chop firewood, wearing gas masks to protect themselves from a mysterious virus. But their tranquility becomes disrupted with the arrival of Will (Christopher Abbott), his wife Kim (Riley Keough), and their son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). Paul and Sarah reluctantly take them under their wing because they have livestock used as food and because they feel two families living under one roof is better than one. But fear and paranoia begins to ensue amongst all of them.
As I’ve mentioned before, from the beginning, the film gives a sense of dread. The film opens up with Paul killing his father-in-law who was stricken by the virus and right then and there, the audience realizes that It Comes At Night is going to go into dark places which it does.
But the places that it goes aren’t as they appear. The trailers make it seem like some supernatural entity is the villain or zombies and whatnot. But it has a different villain that is scarier than a boogeyman hiding in the closet: paranoia and the fear of the unknown. While there is an unknown virus being dealt with despite not much being known about the symptoms other than the fact that people can show signs within a day, It Comes At Night is really about the psychological effects the virus has on the main characters.
It also manages to be an exaggerated demonstration of the nature in which parents condition their children because of how Paul and Sarah are a bit too protective of their son who tries to make sense of the outside world he knows little of. Usually, a great horror film always has a deep theme surrounding it. For example, It Follows deals with the dangers of unsafe sex, The Babadook is a metaphorical portrait of mental illness, and even Carrie is a fable about the consequences of bullying.
Writer/director Trey Edward Shults, who makes his sophomore effort here after debuting with last year’s Krisha, manages to play up the reliance on atmosphere through the use of bare bones realism. It may be set in a post-apocalyptic world but it is only set in one isolated location deep in the woods and it neglects the use of special effects and creatures drenched in makeup. The horror is based entirely on human fears which are brilliantly showcased by the performances.
Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo are brilliant at capturing the ambiguity of Paul and Sarah, a family oriented couple that appears modest yet frigid. Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough are aces as well as Will and Kim, the mysterious couple that may or may not act as a moral compass. There might not be much known about their respective backstories but that’s a part of the film’s genius. It is on us to figure out whose side we’d be on if we were in their situation. Credit should also go to young breakout actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. who ends up serving as an audience stand-in with his portrayal of Travis.
Overall, It Comes At Night is a bone-shatterer that features no-holds-barred psychological chills and exemplary performances mixed with claustrophobic minimalism that harkens back classics like The Shining. There may not be any poorly CGI’d monsters or jump scares present but immediately after watching It Comes At Night, I was almost too afraid to go into the woods. My bones are STILL shaking.