It Comes at Night
Jacob Richardson | 29/06/2017
A haunting, tense and superbly shot thriller, It Comes at Night is a masterclass in cinematic paranoia.
Following the breakout of an un-explained disease that has affected the entirety of humanity, Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) have locked themselves, and their dog Stanley, away in their boarded up house in the woods. Wearing gas masks, they take their infected Grandfather Bud out to the woods, where Paul shoots him before burning the body. The smoke seemingly brings interest to their hazy neck of the woods, as Will (Christopher Abbott) is found breaking into their “Safe Room”, a plastic draped holding chamber between the dangers of the outside world and the seemingly safe confines of their huge wooden house.
After a tense introduction, Paul and Will form an uneasy alliance, based off Sarah’s advice that it wouldn’t be safe to let him go. To forge a bond and begin to build a community of survivors, Paul and his new guest bring Will’s young son Andrew and his wife Kim (Riley Keough) back to the house. A brief peace is established, with Travis in particular enjoying the new found company. Alas, when one member of the six falls ill, suspicion runs rampant and danger looms.
In his second feature, Trey Edward Shults has delivered a short, sharp piece of exceptional filmmaking. Clocking in at just 91 minutes, It Comes at Night feels perfectly timed, which is a remarkable feat given the slow-burn pace of the film. Full of lingering shots of the ominous forest, or creeping dolly zooms down the hallway towards the red door that signifies the outside world, the movie builds tension expertly.
In fact, aside from the ill Grandfather and a character later on in the movie, you never see the effects of the disastrous plague that has affected human-kind. Even with these two examples, the seemingly deadly ‘final stage’ of the transformation is never achieved; instead leaving us with two wheezing, almost immobile husks, complete with shattered iris’s and bone coloured welts. For a movie that, prior to viewing, one could imagine full of night-restricted horror creatures, it’s refreshing to see no sign of them. In fact, it lends itself to Shults, and cinematographer Drew Daniels’ style, allowing shots of barely lit hallways or a still shot of the forest to be full of even more fear-inducing imagination than any CGI creature could convey.
Paranoia, it seems, is the thing that comes at night, with Kelvin Harrison Jr’s Travis regularly having grotesque and erotic nightmares. Here is where we get a glimpse at the true fear of these people; a group of survivors dealing with immeasurable trauma. Harrison Jr is the standout, and anchors a film of impossible cruelty and savagery in something human. Joel Edgerton is also spectacular; a frightening and calming presence all at once. In fact, the entire cast performs uniformly well under the strenuous conditions of the script, where little to no exposition or backstory is the order of the day and the actors work hard to convey their own character’s personalities in tiny movements and glimpses. They’re helped by Daniels and Shults, who work the camera with incredible proficiency to highlight the little quirks of every character. The small dolly towards Edgerton’s Paul as he stares down young toddler Andrew, his eyes conveying every gear working in his head as they peer out from a craggy face framed by an unruly beard, is a particularly masterful example.
While it may not pack the societal commentary of Get Out, It Comes At Night is a tremendous piece of work that focuses on performance and the fear of the unknown, rather than backstory, and is all the more effective because of it.
A brutally effective chamber piece on the effects of paranoia and the cruelty of one’s own mind, It Comes at Night is an achingly beautiful, stunningly well-made sophomore feature for director Trey Edward Shults.