UK Release Date: 7th July 2017
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writer: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Christopher Abbott, Griffin Robert Faulkner
Synopsis: A family holed up in their home to avoid a highly contagious killer virus find themselves forced to question their strategy when another family comes along, with needs of their own.
The low-key release of dystopian horror movie It Comes at Night gave birth to a lot of discussion in the world of scary movie fans. An article in The Guardian argued the film is part of a new trend of “post-horror” movies, marketed as horror but instead embracing something outside of the rather generic trappings and conventions of the genre. The article certainly misses the point of horror cinema, which is that it’s a varied and broad descriptor that includes a wide range of movies. It absolutely includes It Comes at Night, which is thoughtful, contemplative and quiet. But it’s also very scary indeed.
A highly contagious and completely lethal disease has ravaged the world, with small pockets of survivors living in a form of quarantine. Paul (Joel Edgerton) keeps his home secure to protect wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) from contamination. One evening, desperate fellow survivor Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into Paul’s home and, after begging for shelter for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and young child, Paul agrees to let them stay in his home. The two families live together in an uneasy alliance, but there’s little trust between them and paranoia quickly builds.
It Comes at Night is a film that’s entirely about atmosphere. Writer-director Trey Edward Shults strips everything down in order to focus on a single location and a limited array of characters, with minimal dialogue. Perhaps appropriately for a story about scarce resources and frugality, this is a film in which there isn’t a single frame or line of dialogue wasted. Shults does a tremendous job of amping up the tension without reducing to cheap horror tricks, ensuring that atmosphere lurks in every shadowy corner and behind every locked door. It’s a real feat of patient direction.
Shults is helped by the strong performances at the heart of his film. It Comes at Night benefits most from a brilliantly naive turn from Kelvin Harrison Jr. It’s as if he is a young man whose development into adulthood was frozen by the breakdown of society, so he feels too young for his body. When the presence of Riley Keough’s character seems to trigger feelings he doesn’t quite understand, Harrison Jr is fantastic at conveying the turmoil within him without ever over-acting. Edgerton, too, continues the measured work he did in his own bleak thriller The Gift with another chillingly ambiguous performance. He’s a history teacher turned grizzled survivalist and it’s his transformation that crystallises the formidable power of desperation to change a human being.
It Comes at Night is a triumph of tonal confidence. This is a film that is comfortable in its genre classification and focused entirely on eking as much tension as possible from its premise, rather than throwing blood, gore and jump scares at the audience. When Shults does deploy the occasional jolt, he manages to sustain the tension in the aftermath. All of the characters in the film have their own secrets and their own priorities, even though they are all simply trying to survive. Shults is keen to understand how desperate humans interact and the film portrays that with cold, calculated ambiguity.
Shults has constructed a film here that manages to build characters without reams of dialogue and in the absence of pages of leaden backstory. Particularly as a result of Harrison Jr’s quietly likeable turn, It Comes at Night is blessed with characters you like, trapped in a scenario of unimaginable horror. The film builds slowly and carefully towards a finale of chilling control. It’s the perfect metaphor for the way humanity often conspires to damage itself and leaves the film with a final tableau of unsettling power.
Pop or Poop?
With an eye for tension and a refreshing focus on building paranoia over jump scares, It Comes at Night is a horror movie that unsettles and unnerves at every turn. Strong performances and a director who knows exactly how to use his shadowy central location are enough to turn this into more than just another dystopian thriller.
It’s a film with real edge from Trey Edward Shults and it has a chilling perspective on what humans can be driven to do in desperate circumstances.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.