It Comes at Night is a bleak and mysterious psychological thriller that tells the story of a small family fighting against a faceless virus that has seemingly decimated most of the population. Joel Edgerton plays the father of the family, Paul, who takes every possible precaution to protect his wife and son. None of them know what’s happened, nor what’s causing the sickness, but they all agree that they must never go out at night. In their fear of the unknown, and their desperation to survive, the true horror of the film reveals itself. Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, It Comes at Night is bound to leave audiences divided. With its misleading title and its refusal to provide answers, many will no doubt find this to be a fruitless and frustrating film. However, if you’re willing to look beyond the film’s ambiguity, as I did, you may find this to be a tense and captivating study on human behavior.
Before I delve any deeper into this review, I want to make one thing clear: this is not a typical horror movie. It would be more suitable to label it as a psychological horror or thriller. Chances are it’s not going to scare you, but it will still have you on the edge of your seat bridled in suspense. So if you’re looking to be scared, you should look elsewhere. This is more of an artsy indie film, and it’s quite good, but it’s very light on horror. In fact, the only parts that could even be considered mildly frightening are very obviously just dream sequences. Regardless, it’s an eerie and entertaining movie that’s sure to have your chest pounding from all of its tension and suspense.
For large portions of the film, the audience is trapped within the confinement of a lone house in the woods without answers as to what’s happening outside of its walls. We are left in the dark just as much as the characters are. Paul and his family live in this boarded-up house, and they have enough resources to make do for the time being, but they need answers and assistance if they’re going to continue to survive.
A red painted door is the only way in and out of the house, and one night they find a man, seeking shelter for his wife and child, on the other side. Paul and his family agree to let them move in, setting up a scenario where there are two families who don’t know each other living under the same roof and trying to survive, while the threat of death and disease lurks just outside the red door. As you might imagine, their differences and growing distrust of each other begin to divide them in this dire situation.
The film creates a strong sense of claustrophobia through its excellent cinematography. Clever framing of the camera confines these characters, creating a feeling that the walls are closing in on them. This effect is intensified even further by the lack of lighting in the indoor scenes. With a stirring musical score and great sound design, It Comes at Night builds a strong atmosphere and an overarching uneasiness that is felt throughout the entirety of the film.
Joel Edgerton is the obvious stand-out of the cast as Paul, and he gives a riveting performance as a father on edge who will do anything to save his family. He’s a born leader and natural survivor, but by letting his guard down to help his fellow man, you get the sense that he’s slowly starting to lose control. There aren’t many characters in this minimalistic movie, but I think most of the supporting cast does a pretty good job, particularly Christopher Abbott as Will. I’m a little less enthusiastic about Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Paul’s son, Travis, however. He’s one of the deepest characters, arguably even the main character, and yet I found him to be a bit bland and uninteresting.
In the end, It Comes at Night is an engaging and effective film that shows two families coming together in crisis, only to be torn apart by their innate survivalist instincts. It forces us to look within ourselves in our grimmest moments, and asks if we can really ever trust anyone. Yet for all of the questions this movie creates, it boldly refuses to provide answers. If you’re the kind of person that needs clearly explained resolutions in your movies, you’re probably going to hate this one as soon the credits roll. While its lack of explanation may indeed be frustrating, that same vagueness does add to the film’s overall sense of hopelessness. Ultimately, It Comes at Night is still a quality film, and it is masterful at building tension and intrigue, but be warned: its closing moments will either make it or break it for you.
5 Minute Movie Guy