It Comes At Night (2017)
Written & Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Something terrible is happening. A virus is killing people, and no one seems to know quite where it comes from how exactly how you contract it. Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) is living under the strict rules of his father, Paul (Joel Edgerton) and mother, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo). Doors are kept locked up and tight and venturing outside is planned for only short bursts. Into their life comes another group of survivors and out of this develops the central conflict of the film. Told from the perspective of Travis we get overhear conversations muffled by floorboards and see the horrific nightmares that keep the young man awake at night.
Trey Edwards Shults has produced a remarkable film for his second feature. I previously reviewed Krisha which is one of the best debut features I’ve ever seen. So, my expectations for It Comes At Night were relatively high. The trailer also created a sense of atmosphere that alluded to ever present menace. While the film is not necessarily what the trailer advertises, it is a very tense intimate horror picture that focuses on human nature over a supernatural threat.
Just like Krisha, the cinematography is done once again by Drew Daniels who finds very interesting angles and positions for the camera. There is one moment as Paul decides to drive out searching for others that I believe a drone-mounted camera is used to great effect. I was reminded of the remarkable opening to Krisha which also appeared to use a drone camera as a way to record the central character from unexpected angles and go places a human operated camera couldn’t.
And much like Krisha, It Comes builds its tension through Family. Travis is a seventeen-year-old man with no human connection outside of his parents. He doesn’t have the typical hormonal outbursts you might expect would be exacerbated by the apocalyptic situation. Instead, there is a quiet frustration and depression building in him. His parents seem to be oblivious to this growing dissonance inside him, or at least choose to ignore it. Joel Edgerton delivers a magnificent performance through subtle looks and slight reactions. The way he reacts to certain stories being revealed as lies is so fragile and well put across. Like I spoke to in my Logan review, the strength of an actor’s reaction is my key sign of how good a performer they are.
The film uses minimalism to great effect in the way it chooses not to explain the global situation in the wake of this unnamed virus. Instead, the story is kept isolated so that way the conflicts are magnified. There is never a sign that help is on the way and the human desperation to survive grows out of that. It’s probably cliche to say It Comes is all about people as the worst monster you could encounter. Whether it was intentional of Shults’ part or not, I think the film evokes a lot of feelings about the current state of America, and the way members of communities feel continually split apart to the point of isolation. Where the minimalism doesn’t work is how undeveloped the relationships between Travis and his parents ends up. I found it hard to buy into the emotional stakes between these three in the end because I never got a sense of what they were like before all of this.
It Comes At Night is a very well made horror film. It challenges the audience’s expectations in interesting and complex ways. The movie is not afraid to delve into the darkest corners of human desperation. You won’t find many jumpscares here. Instead, it is an in-depth examination of human beings forced into a corner. It Comes is the type of film that lodges itself in your brain and remains with you for a long time after, contemplating what would have happened if different choices were made.