‘It Comes At Night’ And Brings Dread (Movie Review)

The use of space, darkness and an ominous red door are all great assets for It Comes at Night. This is the second film from director Trey Edward Shults, who arrived on the scene with 2015’s Krisha, another film dealing with family-related intensity. With It Comes at Night, that intensity is structured around a thriller with a familiar setup – how does a small group of people last in a cabin in the woods, while evil abounds outside? The intrigue is naturally there, but perhaps not delivered upon in a way that’s friendly to the multiplex audience expecting something along the lines of a simple scare fest.

Mood is established straight away, as the film opens on the final moments of a dying elderly man (David Pendleton). Appearing more undead than alive at this point, disease has ravaged this man’s body and his family, wearing gas masks and other protective gear, say their goodbyes before taking him outside. The old man’s son-in-law, Paul (Joel Edgerton), puts an end to his life with a bullet, burning the body afterward.

There is little in the way of exposition to justify what is going on. It is clear an event of some kind happened that has put the world (or at least part of it) in an apocalyptic state, as Paul wants him and his family to avoid the potential of getting sick at all cost. It means staying in a boarded up home in the forest, with a lock on the portentous red door that serves as the only way in or out.

The door embodies just some of the striking imagery seen inside and outside of this home. Shults and his cinematographer Drew Daniels do fantastic work in assembling a film that fills every frame with something that will catch your eye, regardless if you are worried about staring too closely. That the film only goes so far in delivering on an actual manifestation of evil is a testament to how effective this film is in serving as an exercise in paranoia-based suspense.

To make a film like this work, a solid cast needs to be on board, ready to play everything with a straight face. Edgerton is right at home here, once again letting his naturalistic behavior guide him along, even when he’s at his most stressed. Carmen Ejogo is Sarah, Paul’s quiet, but strong wife. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is Travis, the son of Paul and Sarah who provides the most perspective for the audience. This trio makes up one family, but another enters the story as well. They are made up of Will (Christopher Abbot), Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner).

Plenty of films that tackle the struggle of being pushed to the edge of life on earth. Often time issues of trust become a sticking point. From George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead to the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, decades worth of films have been fascinated by how people survive the end of the world on a personal level. It Comes at Night echoes some of these best attempts by embracing a minimalist approach. Of course, the film does come with its level of personality, even if it adds to the inherent darkness of this setup.

The recent death of Shults’ father heavily informs the film, as one could tell by my description of the film’s opening. It’s an aspect that haunts the lead family. Travis, in particular, suffers from grief in a way that lends itself to nightmare imagery that helps fill the scare quotient. It Comes at Night seems more interested in the slow build up and ambiguous anxiety than actual payoff, which is somewhat to the film’s detriment, but no one will envy Travis’ state of mind by the end of this movie.

Having distributed films such as The Witch, Green Room and The Blackcoat’s Daughter, A24 is a natural fit for a film like It Comes at Night. It’s the sort of serious-minded horror film that will play well for those not looking for simple shock-and-awe. That said, at 91 minutes, it may take its time, but still finds the right notes to hit before moving into a final act that doesn’t copout on the nihilism. That wouldn’t be this film’s style, and Shults knows it.

It Comes at Night leaves plenty to the imagination, but doesn’t leave one wanting more. The film is gripping in a way that surprises without plainly showing its hand. Edgerton leads a strong cast, and the threat of the unknown provides more than enough to get under everyone’s skin. That should prove to be enough for those needing more than just another story about a cabin in the woods.


1 Response to “‘It Comes At Night’ And Brings Dread (Movie Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Damn! I guess I need to see this. The Alamo Drafthouse had a screening of this one for press in the middle of the woods, but I opted for the beach screening of Baywatch.