It Comes At Night has been floating around the film buzz circuit with a horror glow about it, but this second feature from Trey Edward Shults is more of a psychological ponderance than a pure horror play. Head in knowing that this picture is more musings on the nature of man and the ways in which doubt can erode humanity and morality than a spine-tingler, and you’re in for something of a treat.
Picture this: A secluded cabin. An apocalypse and worse. There’s sickness, rapid and devastating, and highly misunderstood. You have a house, and a family. You’re well-armed, you’ve narrowed everything down to one way in, one way out. You have plans. You have water. You have gas masks. But you’re down a person. Food is scarce. And there’s an unknown someone in your house. Such is the scenario that launches this atmospheric picture.
Paul (Joel Edgerton) is the man with the plan, the guns and the family. His wife, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), his teenage son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) and his recently deceased father-in-law’s dog, Stanley, are all that’s left to him. And that unknown stranger in the night triggers his baser instincts for survival and mistrust. But said stranger, Will (Christopher Abbott), turns out to be a family man too, one loaded with food, but desperate to find water for his wife, Kim (Riley Keough) and young son. Paul’s too cautious to kill Will outright, and so, a shakey alliance is born of mutual need and fear. And what unfolds over the rest of It Comes At Night’s 97 minute run is a subtle, steady march toward an inevitable death knell.
The fascinating thing about post-apocalyptic features is the weight of doom and dread. Okay, so you’ve at least temporarily outplayed whatever wiped out most of humanity. What now? If there are others left, they’re desperate too. If there aren’t any of them around, everything is down to you. Basic needs become the highest currency, and we’re left to watch the agony unfold.
It Comes At Night is chiefly concerned with this imperative. With desperate people and desperate measures. A fine cast with an emotional core in the form of relative newcomer Kelvin Harrison Jr. (watch for him in Mudbound later this year), brings these central emotions to life with nuance and grace. The picture is slow at times, dwelling on what passes for almost pleasant in the new world, but it’s never without the creep of lingering questions, doubts and fears. As such, it’s incredibly impactful in the moment. And it leaves plenty to consider in the aftermath.
But know this: A picture this atmospheric needs a theater. It needs an audience. Without the collective holding of breath and the overwhelming darkness, its greatest strengths won’t leap off the screen. In fact, they probably won’t even register. If you want something original and different, see it. But be ready to question everything and leave without resolution.