IT COMES AT NIGHT
2017, R, 97 mins.
Joel Edgerton as Paul / Riley Keough as Kim / Christopher Abbott as Will / Carmen Ejogo as Sarah / Kelvin Harrison as Travis / Griffin Robert Faulkner as Andrew
Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults
before I screened IT COMES AT NIGHT I watched three trailers for upcoming
horror thrillers. All of them
were edited in exactly the same way. All of them had the exact same jump scare music cues.
And all of them suffered from repetitive sameness and felt wholly
and disposable interchangeable. None
of them made me enthusiastic about this well worn genre; there wasn't an
iota of creativity present within them.
This makes it all
the more relieving - and more than a bit surprising - when a small little
horror-survivor thriller like IT COMES AT NIGHT comes along to wake us all
up out of genre fatigue and apathy. The
sophomore directorial effort of Houston-born Trey Edward Shults, this
modest low budget film isn't replete with numbing and sadistic
violence, but instead is much more refreshingly a masterful exercise in eerie-beyond-belief
atmosphere that suffocates
both its characters and viewers. IT
COMES AT NIGHT is steeped in paranoia, dread, and the haunting suspicion
of that we are unfamiliar with. Made
with a bare bones premise, a consummate proficiency, and a bravura sense
of shocking ambiguity, Shults' film emerges as one of the most hypnotically
watchable of 2017...that is unless you're so unnerved by it all that you
find yourself looking away from the screen throughout its chillingly taunt
Too many films -
regardless of genre - waste an inordinate amount of time on expositional
particulars to the point of inspiring watch checking boredom.
IT COMES AT NIGHT respects viewers more by simply thrusting viewers
right smack dab in the middle of its nightmarish narrative without ever
dwelling on specifics. The
remarkably effective opening scene sets up the entire film perfectly,
during which time we see a hellishly sick middle aged man that looks just a
few symptoms away from being an unthinking zombie.
The virus riddled man is packed into a wheel barrel, taking
outside, thrown into a shallow grave, shot dead, covered in gasoline, and
then set on fire. The
sequence ostensibly shows us everything we need to know about this
apocalyptic world without telling us how society devolved in such a way.
It's as disturbing of an introduction to a film as you're likely to
We learn that the
burned man is actually the father-in-law of the man who just killed him,
Paul (a commandingly powerful Joel Edgerton), whose wife Sarah (Carmen
Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) have secluded themselves deep
in the woods and well away from a society that has apparently been ravaged by
a flesh eating virus that's horrendously contagious and slowly kills a
person from the inside out. They
live by a single drive to stay alive and keep out anyone or anything that
that could contaminate their forest home and serve as a death sentence for
them all. They have
everything they essentially need to live, but are growing scarce on food.
One fateful evening Paul catches an intruder trying to break into
their home, after which time he binds and gags the man and keeps him well
away from his home and family in fear of him being diseased.
Paul soon realizes that the man, Will (Christopher Abbot), seems
healthy, but is incredibly desperate for water, which is what motivated
him to break into what he assumed was a secluded home to look for much
Paul still has
his doubts, which leads to Will convincing him to escort him back to his
wife Kim (Riley Keough) and son in exchange for food, which he claims they do have
in abundance. It appears that
Will's story is true, so Paul decides that the best course of action is to
allow this small family to return home with him and give them a place to
stay in exchange for rations.
Slowly, but surely, both families learn to co-exist in relative peace
and harmony, but when clues begin to rear up that one member of Will's
family is potentially contaminated it consumes Paul with mistrust and
fear, re-sparking his deep seeded worries that Will was not straight with
him from the very beginning.
plot further would be akin to a spoiler rant, but what I can say about IT
COMES AT NIGHT is that it's one of the decidedly rare breeds of modern
horror thrillers - like IT FOLLOWS and
THE WITCH - that places infinitely more
stock in unsettling audiences than it does in nauseating them with shock
and awe gore and cheaply engineered mayhem.
Those looking for a dime-a-dozen slasher film in IT COMES AT NIGHT
(which its head scratchingly false advertising campaign wrongfully
preached it was) will be setting themselves up for massive disappointment.
The methodical slow-burn approach here by Shults is precisely what
makes his film such an atypically frightening piece of macabre horror fiction. Too many horror films these days scare us with mechanically
orchestrated "boo!" moments, whereas IT COMES AT NIGHT becomes
more unrelentingly creepy and hard to watch out of fear of what's lurking
in the shadows of the candle lit home...or outside in the surrounding
The house itself
becomes a tertiary character throughout the film, not to mention a
claustrophobic entity that begins to clamp down on both families,
systematically increasing distrust in one another.
Shults manages to create nail biting tension out of nothingness, letting
painstakingly orchestrated camera pans, ominous
lighting schemes, and some nifty usage of multiple screen aspects ratios
to sell the film's dread filled mood. In
many respects, IT COMES AT NIGHT is really an anti-horror film in the
sense that it's more calculatingly insular in overall approach.
Zombie pandemic films, for example, explore the larger world of the
outbreak and the hows and whys of its origins; IT COMES AT NIGHT is the
exact opposite - it's about a very small group of people caught within a
larger humanity threatening crisis doing what they can to stay alive at
all costs away from it.
COMES AT NIGHT is really a zombie movie minus zombies that uses its
slickly spare and economical premise to examine the disintegration of its
character's mental states when under punishing duress.
Shults dabbles with some evocatively ambiguous supernatural
occurrences in the film (which could be part of one character's dream...or
they could be actually happening...or a sinister combination of both), but he never dwells
on them. He's more intrigued
with showing characters driven to paralyzing trepidation and how the daily
challenges of basic survival and staving off infection act as a catalyst
for people making ill informed snap judgments.
The thankless performances are crucial here, seeing as all the
actors present are all neither playing squeaky clean and noble personas,
nor are they embodying figures of pure evil.
There's no real tangible or obligatory axe wielding villain in IT COMES AT NIGHT;
the film is about good people driven to maddening uneasiness and extremes while
populating a world gone mad. That's
what makes it truly scary.
IT COMES AT NIGHT
reaches a boiling point during its fever pitched climax that I frankly
found unreservedly traumatic to endure, which I think is the exact point;
it finishes on a final shot that's both pathetically sad and
brutally powerful. The film
concludes without laying all of its narrative cards on the table for easy
audience dissection and interpretation. I'm hard
pressed to find any other recent horror thriller - outside of a few aforementioned ones
- that terrified me as much as this one did without resorting to cheap
genre pallor tricks and overused troupes.
IT COMES AT NIGHT is a doomsday survival film as audaciously
original and brutally efficient as them come, and it left me feeling mentally worn and shaken as I
exited the cinema.
You'll watch most of it through your fingers...as I most certainly
Watch me talk about this film on my annual
BEST/WORST of 2017 Midterm Report Card CTV Segment: