Director: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbott, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner
When a movie opens with an unwell grandfather at death’s door with teary-eyed family around him, it’s pretty much a given that the following story won’t be jolly. When grandfather is then shot in the face and immolated, you’re pretty much guaranteed a gloomy ride. On top of this, a disease has devastated the outside world.
Secluded deep in the woods, one family lives a regimented and imprisoned life in order to survive and keep whatever has decimated the world outside of their walls. Not just that, it stops anybody getting in too.
You can’t trust anyone but family.
Words that are pretty much the life motto of Paul (Edgerton), the brooding and bearded father of the family who sets the rules and governs with edgy control. His wife Sarah (Ejogo) and son Travis (Harrison Jr.) comply with the instructions – don’t go out at night, leave each door locked etc. – and soberly live their lives as simply as they can. All that changes when an uninvited guest breaks through one of the locked doors into the house – what does he want? Who is he? Is he sick? No time for Paul to ask flippant questions as he promptly KO’s the intruder and ties him to a tree outside. Efficient.
The man, Will (Abbott, looking very Jon Snow-esque), merely wants water for his wife and son (living 50 miles away) however Paul is suspicious immediately of the intruder. Sarah convinces him to bring Will’s wife Kim (Keough) and son Andrew (Faulkner) back to the fortress/cabin, and to trade water for food. Protection in numbers is always a good thing too. After a tense and risky journey, Will’s family is brought back and begins to co-exist with Paul’s, but there’s an air of suspicion over the new arrivals that Paul cannot shake off – how it was their property Will broke in to and the anomalies in his story. For Travis, the arrival of Kim sends his teenage hormones racing, this is on top of having seen his grandfather executed, strange dreams he has been having and the ever-mysterious threats from the outside that is leaving everyone teetering on the edge. Something’s gotta give as both Paul and Will wrestle with how far they will go to protect their family.
It’s worth pointing out immediately that It Comes at Night is not a ‘standard’ modern horror, Trey Edward Shults offers a tense, nervy affair over a rampaging living dead movie. This isn’t 28 Days Later, The Strangers (which was fantastic) or 10 Cloverfield Lane (which wasn’t fantastic), no zombies, home invasions or alien diseases to be found here. Instead, the movie offers a story focused on paranoia, trust and desperation – what would you do in the situation? The situation, in fact, is never explained – what is the ‘it’ that comes at night? Is there something lurking out there? Could it be the infection? Will, maybe? Possibly just fear, the sense of isolation and dread that grips as night time falls. The mystery remains all through the movie and it’s all the better for it. No radios, no mobile phones, no internet. Just the unknown.
The idea is nothing new, but the execution is brilliantly done. Simple details such as the door leading outside being painted an ominous red makes it stand out in the dark and shadowy light. The wooden cabin creaks and groans under foot in the silence of the woods and the lighting throughout is used superbly also. In the exterior shots, you are always looking for the unseen terrors and never feeling quite safe until you find them – hint: you won’t (was that a tree or a human in the background?!). Also, the shifting aspect ratios as Travis falls into his nightmares adds another subtle layer to proceedings.
The minimalist cast are all great and cohesive together within the confines of the cabin. Joel Edgerton is thrilling as Paul, always on edge and doubting every decision that isn’t his. Christopher “not Jon Snow” Abbott also excels as potentially shady Will, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. is the standout performer of the gang with a gamut of emotions bestowed upon him to explore.
For a ‘horror’ movie (or chiller) to function as well as it does without a visible/actual antagonist is a credit to the solid writing, cinematography and direction. As the movie rolls on, the constant lingering questions and mystery will attack you and compel you to stay glued to the screen. It Comes at Night will be a contender for gloomiest, most depressing movie of the year for sure, but it matches that with a great story and delivers a gripping, entertaining movie.
“Everything’s going to be OK”
No, it isn’t.
August 29th 2017