Up-and-coming director Trey Edward Shults delves into the horror genre with his second feature, It Comes at Night. The A24 release stars Joel Edgerton as Paul, whose solitary objective in life is to protect his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in the wake of a horrific event that has presumably left most of the population dead. The familial thriller plays off the paranoia and terror in never knowing who to trust and what is safe, and begs the question if life is worth living under such conditions.
After establishing the current order of things in the family’s boarded up cabin in the middle of a desolate forest, an intruder attempts to barge into their abode. Paul, armed and wearing a protective gas mask and gloves, confronts the assailant and discovers a man named Will (Christopher Abbott) who claims that he is searching for water for his own family who are also supposedly holed up some distance away. While Will seems earnest, and has resources that could prove valuable to Paul’s family, there are questions and observations that perpetuate seeds of doubt, and Paul never knows quite what to believe, even as his wife tries to be trusting of their new guest.
One can probably surmise that It Comes at Night is not your run-of-the-mill fright fest or creature feature, but rather an arthouse horror that relies more on unseen terrors and the horrors of the imagination than any tangible threat. The movie examines the dynamic of families under situations of duress and distrust, and the movie’s boarded up home setting provides a dark environment with eerie hallways and shadows that mask the unknown. Cinematographer Drew Daniels and director Shults do a terrific job of creating a sense of foreboding and bleakness with long tracking shots and zooms. The movie’s atmosphere serves as another character of sorts, giving the constant feeling of impending doom.
Joel Edgerton gives a strong performance as Paul, the patriarch who has to give up his humanity to protect his family. Kelvin Harrison Jr., who previously appeared in the Roots remake and The Birth of a Nation, holds his own as Paul’s son Travis, whose naivety and kindness often creates further tension and stress for the family. The film’s small ensemble delivers solid work across the board, as the small scale production relies on human drama and emotion to sell the story.
Fans of standard haunted house fare might not appreciate the atmospheric, interpersonal terror that brews in It Comes at Night: indeed, those waiting for something to literally come at night might be sorely disappointed. But those with a discerning eye for film and a desire for an unsettling tale that plays like a gripping short story and stays with you long after viewing would do well to see just what happens when It Comes at Night.