It Comes At Night is going to be one of those films that divides opinion. If you rigidly build your expectations based on what you saw in the trailer, or the overall marketing feel of the film, you may come away feeling disappointed or even slightly duped. I noticed some audible disdain from other people in the screening I was in at the films end. But if you go in with a more open frame of mind and are willing to let it play out, you’ll more than likely experience a rewarding watch.
Rather than being told any backstory via narration or a time lapse of past events. A very effective opening scene, involving the euthanisation and disposal of someone not in the best of health, lets the audience know exactly what’s going on in the world. Some kind of virus has decimated the human population, and now a back to basics need to survive is the only way of life.
We’re introduced to a family, led by patriarch Paul (Joel Egerton) wife Sarah (Carmem Ejogo) and teenage son Travis ( Kelvin Harrison Jr) who are holed up in a cabin in the middle of a desolate forest. Every window is boarded up, food and water is carefully rationed, battery lamps are the only source of illumination and gas masks are worn anytime they venture outside. It depicts a harsh reality, with an added air of mystery as the details of the outbreak are never fully disclosed. When another survivor, Will (Christopher Abbott) tries to break into the families fortress out of desperation. They decide to accept him, his wife (Riley Keough) and young son into their midst. The thought is safety in numbers and pooling resources together could be beneficial for everyone. But the ever lingering sense of doubt and mistrust always hangs over proceedings.
Joel Egerton is the backbone of the whole film. His performance is powerful without being flashy or over the top. While Paul is a well prepared and cautious protector, who stakes the survival of his family above all else. There’s always the subtle sense that he enjoys the power he now holds over the household (he has the one set of keys to the only entrance/exit to the cabin around his neck). He’s not a monster, but you can’t help feel wary of him and what he might be capable of within this harsh new world. Of the supporting cast, young newcomer Harrison Jr stands out. As Travis, witnessing an earlier traumatic event has left his psychological state in a precarious position. Gruesome nightmares start to haunt him, and the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur slightly. Harrison plays it all perfectly. He’s both likable and sympathetic, with no hint of any cliched ‘teen angst’ which would be an easy thing to fall into. He’s definitely one to look out for in the future.
Just what the ‘It’ of the title is can be open to interpretation. Is it the virus/plague itself? Is it the paranoia that’s slowly eating away at the survivors? Or perhaps it’s the increasingly frequent nightmares that afflict Travis? Whatever your thoughts, it’s safe to say It Comes At Night is not a horror film in the classic sense. It has little snippets of that genre’s hallmarks here and there, but if you go into it expecting a slasher style gorefest or a jump scare ridden ghost tale. Then you’re not going to get the satisfaction you’re after. It plays out more in the vain of a tense psychological thriller. A sharp, character driven study of people in a world where just getting by is tough, and clinging on to a semblance of humanity becomes an increasing struggle.
The misjudged trailers may steer a few people in the wrong direction in regards of what to expect. But this low-key and suspenseful effort from new director on the block, Trey Edward Shults, has the makings of a future cult classic.