“It Comes At Night” has some intensely personal roots for its writer and director Trey Edward Shults. The film’s genesis can be found in Shults’s sorrow following the death of his father. After ten plus years of estrangement fueled by his father’s addictions, the two reconciled on his deathbed. Shults began writing “It Comes At Night” two months later as a way to cope with his grief.
Shults’s familial connection to his film is not unlike his previous movie, 2015’s “Krisha”. In it we witness a character’s relapse and ultimate breakdown – something inspired by a real-life family incident. In “It Comes At Night” the opening scene is the emotional release point for Shults. It shows a daughter giving words of comfort to her dying disease-stricken father. Shults has stated these are the words he shared with his dad.
We quickly learn the infected man’s name is Bud (David Pendleton) and the consoling daughter is Sarah (Carmen Ejogo). The disease’s effects on Bud are obvious – nasty boils, milky eyes, pale skin, the works. Sarah’s husband Paul (Joel Edgerton) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) take Bud outside, Paul shoots him and then burns the body. For the remainder of the film’s running time this disturbing mercy killing haunts this family, especially 17-year old Travis.
The film tells us very little about the epidemic, how it started, or even how its contracted. Frankly all that stuff is unimportant. Instead we are dropped into this already contaminated and chaotic world. And despite the impressions left by the trailers, the tension and suspense is drawn more from what lies within the characters than what may be lingering outside in the night.
Paul and his family live in a boarded up house deep in the forest. Their closed-off lives are shaped by survivalist protocols and justifiable paranoia. Their feelings of isolation and security are broken when their home is discovered by a man named Will (Christopher Abbott) who is seeking supplies for his family. A hesitant Paul agrees to take in Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough), and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). For a time a sense of social normalcy returns, but ultimately the human responses to fear and anxiety are too much to shake.
It would be easy to see this as a conventional horror film – a deadly virus, a cabin in the woods, a spooky red door at the end of a hall, and the ominous title. But there is a surprising psychological depth that transcends any genre expectations. There are a handful of jump scares and the shadowy claustrophobic setting is indeed creepy. But the film’s true intensity comes from its cliché-free handling of the inner demons gnawing away at these characters.
“It Comes At Night” is many things. It’s an unconventional horror picture. It’s a deep emotional treatment of loss. It’s a troubling, unorthodox coming-of-age story. The cool thing is how well Trey Shults packages all these things together without an ounce of conflict. It is a meticulously paced and tightly focused story that does a good job utilizing its stellar cast. It is unshakably bleak – maybe too much so for some, but if you can get in tune with its unique rhythm and are willing to dig deeper under it’s surface, you’ll find more to this film than the trailers would have you believe.
VERDICT – 4 STARS