IT COMES AT NIGHT (7 out of 10) Written and Directed by Trey Edward Shults; Starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr.; Rated R for violence, disturbing images, and language; Running time 91 minutes; In limited release June 9, 2017.
One of the most original and creative horror-suspense movies of the year, It Comes At Night displays all the depths of humanity-- our capacity for charity, kindness, depravity, and paranoia. Set against the backdrop of an apocalyptic plague that has claimed all but a few survivors, the film presents a bleak and nihilistic depiction of humanity on the brink of extinction. Don't come in expecting any hope or even a tidy ending. But you will get scared.
The film centers around a family led by Paul, played to paranoid perfection by Joel Edgerton, who might just be the most valuable player in suspenseful, thoughtful indie cinema today continuing his streak from The Gift, Midnight Special, and Loving. He, his wife and seventeen year old son live in their isolated countryside home, having boarded up all the windows and doors and fearing any outside contact who may carry the sickness that seemingly has wiped out most of mankind.
When they encounter Will, his wife and toddler son, they decide the safest course of action is to let them live with them, but can they be trusted?
Director Shults here is a master at creating suspense and completely earned jump scares. He effectively uses the cinematography to make us feel just as paranoid, isolated, and fearful as our main characters. He also uses light and shadow to incredible effect. There's a reason we're scared of the dark, and the use of very dim and focused flashlights, lamplight, and so on keep us guessing. But even in the daylight, there's scares a-plenty.
The biggest overarching fear is, of course, of catching the sickness that has wiped out everyone else. This permeates everything, especially the recurring nightmares and thoughts of 17 year old Travis. And he is a beautiful and amazing gift in this film. Both he and Edgerton are asked to say so much through their eyes and expressions because the characters are fairly taciturn. Travis also becomes our de facto third person narrator. When he hangs out in the attic and hears conversations and other things through the house, we don't cut away to the rooms where the conversations are taking place-- we stick with Travis. We also see his dreams, his nightmares, and some of the final shots of the film are even through his eyes.
This is what low budget horror thrillers should be -- a simple premise, well-executed, impeccably directed and filmed, and creepy as hell. When Universal wakes up from this weekend and sees the box office on The Mummy and wonders where they went wrong, they can look at their competition and what they did right that their big budget failed to deliver.
But while it compares favorably to its big budget competition, it's hard to talk about It Comes at Night without discussing Get Out. Both feature diverse casts (refreshing, and awesome) and both are creepy and suspenseful. But beyond a sense of dread and nihilism, what is this film trying to say? Of course, it's unfair to expect every horror movie to be Get Out the same way it's unfair to expect every superhero movie to be Logan. I just wish I left the theater feeling something other than dread and a bleak view of humanity.
But this film does one thing the best: scare you and keep you on the edge of your seat. And really, why should we ask any more from a film than a good emotional experience?
7 out of 10