It Comes at Night

it_comes_at_night_ver2STARS3.5Call it psychological horror.  Call it wilderness survival.  Call it a post-apocalyptic tale of the unknown.  It Comes at Night is a bit of all of these things.  The production is assembled from cinematic components with which we are familiar.  It’s easy to think we have the story pegged and our expectations fall into line as to what we’re going to get.  But this drama innovates as it entertains.  It’s not predictable and that’s part of what makes this cleverly crafted piece of intensity so effective.

At its most elemental, It Comes at Night is a cabin-in-the-woods chronicle of survival. Paul, his wife Sarah and their teenage son Travis are holed up in the safe confines of a shack in the forest.  Meanwhile, some outside epidemic has had a devastating effect on the world as we know it.  Society has crumbled and it’s every man for himself.  The movie begins with Sarah’s father who has contracted the disease.  He is terminally ill.  The family has been forced to brutally put an end to his life in order to contain the threat.  It’s an unsettling way to begin a story, but it immediately establishes how dire circumstances have become.  The contamination is serious business and this family isn’t afraid to make some very harsh decisions.  Things grow more complicated when they encounter a man that has broken into their home.  Will (Christopher Abbott ) says he is searching for food for his wife Kim (Riley Keough ) and young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner).

Writer-director Trey Edward Shults is a filmmaker that is still finding his voice but he has presented a unified vision in both of his two features.  2016 saw the release of his debut Krisha.  That drama was about a woman being re-introduced to her family at Thanksgiving dinner after having struggled with addiction.  The narrative was emotional, claustrophobic, and unrelentingly uncomfortable.  Interestingly all of those descriptions apply to It Comes at Night as well.  Both are intimate accounts of human behavior.  In his new work, Shults isn’t really concerned with what is outside the cabin.  It’s what’s inside that counts. The production is photographed to highlight the dark and foreboding hallways in their little shack.  Although we are constantly reminded of the outside risk.  A red door, the only escape in or out, becomes an ominous motif of some unseen peril that lies out there.

Human behavior is the focus.  Shults is fascinated with people and their conversations. The screenplay, which the director also penned, ratchets up the tension to the point where things become oppressive.  He assembles the composition like a play of human interactions.  The screenplay succeeds because of the believable work of the ensemble cast.  Actor Joel Edgerton is the most famous name.  He has the biggest role as Paul and he’s just as commanding a presence as you’d expect.  However up and coming actor Christopher Abbott (James White) is particularly noteworthy.  As the intruder that disturbs the safety of their world, he’s mysterious and vague in just the right way.  Also of note are Carmen Ejogo as Paul’s wife Sarah and Kelvin Harrison Jr. as their son Travis. They perfectly capture a palpable fear.  Our experience is heightened because we empathize with their unrelenting dread.

It Comes at Night is brilliantly constructed.  The mood is dire, barren, desolate.  As things get more intense, director Shults plays with perception, paranoia, and reality.  The saga is thrilling for his developing technique.  As in every movie, there’s a moment where the picture ultimately ends, the credits roll and the lights come up.  I sheepishly admit my immediate reaction was disappointment.  However, this is a film for discussion.  As I reflected on what I had seen, it gets clearer.  Director Trey Edward Shults has taken a visionary approach.  This is a thoughtful fable about humanity.  It’s about so much more than what is physically represented.


12 Responses to “It Comes at Night”

  1. Couldn’t agree with your last line more! Ultimately this is a really simple and bleak picture but it’s so well executed, plus Joel Edgerton always gets me on board. What’s more, there is not even really any need to address the fact that the family that’s here is a mixed race family. The family dynamic just feels so natural, but it’s interesting that its the second time Edgerton has been a part of that dynamic.


    • Interesting point. Can we talk about Joel Edgerton for a minute? Why has he never been nominated for an Academy Award? Animal Kingdom (2010), Warrior (2011), The Great Gatsby (2013), The Gift (2015), Black Mass (2015) and Loving (2016). There are probably others, but those performances immediately spring to mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Criminally underrated. May one day he see the light. What’s great about him though is he’ll go on and keep putting out greatness regardless of the fanfare around him. He really is a great actor, I’d love to see him win something. And out of all those you listed, I can’t even really pick a favorite. I have enjoyed them all pretty much equally.


  2. Found the production to be flawless in this one. Maybe a tad too much ambiguity, but man, this is something that people just need to disregard the trailer for.

    I was just thinking about Edgerton after viewing this. If he’s not there yet, he’s awfully close to becoming appointment viewing. He knows how to pick projects.


    • Your recommendation to “disregard the trailer” is good advice. I don’t watch trailers anymore. Even at the theater, I close my eyes and chill before the movie starts. I had no preconceived notions about the story. Also, I don’t read any reviews until after I’ve written mine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Close eyes and chill…I think I may try this! Especially since I like to try and get seated about 10-15 minutes beforehand.
        I try not to seek out any trailers, and generally only watch the ones that come on before my showing, but that isn’t exactly spoiler-proof, or in this case, preconceived notion-proof.


  3. A movie that completely had me on edge. Did not know what to expect. Over all, I liked it, but I feel like it needed something more. 3 1/2 stars


  4. Great review.This film works more because of what it does not show rather than the usual digitial spooks we usually see in this genre.


  5. From your opening paragraph you had my attention. I like hearing that the movie innovates as it entertains and that it’s unpredictability makes it effective. I thought Krisha was great, so I’m happy to hear that Shults succeeds again and that he has a common theme between both movies (human behavior). It’s a ripe subject for commentary. My colleague who saw it had a similar reaction to you (initial disappointment), but I’ve heard this movie is the kind where the more you think about it, the better it gets. Mad that I missed It Comes at Night while it was in theaters and can’t wait to catch it as soon as possible.


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