Actor, writer, director and editor Trey Edward Shults has written and directed his first full-length feature film titled It Comes at Night. The film tells the story of a family that lives in the woods far away from just about everyone. A mysterious illness has been sweeping over the land and Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son, Travis(Kevin Harrison Jr.) has carved out a quiet existence for themselves. They are self-sufficient with their own food and water supply and are armed with guns. During the day they are cautious when outside; quiet, alert but busy. At night the home is on lockdown. No one goes in or out until dawn and oh, that red door stays shut.
One night, a stranger breaks into the house. His name is Will(Christopher Abbott) and after an altercation between Paul and Will, Will explains that he is only looking for food and water for his wife and child. After a tense exchange of words, Paul agrees to accompany Will back to his wife and child with supplies. But is Will being honest? Paul is rightfully cautious, at first. Everyone has something to lose and the wrong decision can bring disastrous results for everyone. Paul is the kind of man you want when the world has gone crazy; strong and resourceful. No one comes between him and his family. He is on edge almost entirely and it has driven a bit of a wedge between him and his own family. They understand why, but it has worn them down.
It Comes at Night has been marketed as a horror film but I think it does the film a disservice. Yes, it has some horror elements, but It Comes at Night is it at its best when it is a psychological thriller and a character study. Shults has an eye and an ear for human nature and how we speak in times of strife. It helps to have Joel Edgerton as your lead, too. He is perfectly cast as Paul. Paul means well, but his nerves seem to be giving way to his paranoia or is he completely justified? Edgerton does a masterful job of balancing sanity with madness within his character. Paul tries to maintain his senses but something always seems to be off.
There is a lot to like about It Comes at Night. This is a somber film and will have you on edge for the full ninety minutes. But this is film that wants to be a horror film. It winds you up and then does nothing with it which is why I think people expecting a horror film will be disappointed. This is also why I suggest people look at it as a psychological thriller and a character study. It is about trying to do the right thing when the whole world has gone crazy and knowing when to cut your losses and move on. On this level, It Comes at Night is a solid piece of filmmaking.
The supporting cast is excellent as well. Carmen Ejogo and Kevin Harrison Jr. are terrific as Paul’s suffering wife and son. They know what danger might be out there, but grow a bit tired of Paul’s constant badgering. Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough as his wife, Kim, provide strong performances as the new family forced to deal with Paul and his rules. Everyone is trying to maintain some sense of humanity and normalcy even though they all know that they are all fighting to survive. The sickness which hits people shows no real signs of illness until it is too late and it puts an added strain on everyone even Will and Kim’s child, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner)
Cinematographer Drew Daniels does some excellent camera work for this film using a lot of shadows and muting the color palate of the film. Everything and everyone has a washed and bleached look except the red door. What does the red door mean? No one seems to know but Daniels does a terrific job of creating a mystery simply by applying the less-is-more attitude. Show us just enough to get our imaginations going. It reminds me a bit of Ridley Scott’s Alien in which you don’t see a whole lot but man, does it give you the heebie-jeebies. Steven Spielberg used the same kind of camera work for Jaws but to a little lesser degree. You saw more of the shark but not until late in the film. Film score composer, Brian McOmber does a fine job of creating an ambiently electronic score that is so quiet most of the time, you could hear a pin drop.
It Comes at Night is a sobering and creepy film enhanced by the strong story and its acting. The script is sensibly simple and realistically tuned to how people think and act in dire situations. It has all of the elements of a horror film but does not have that kind of an impact, when it is all said and done. That is not a bad thing, either. That is all I can say without revealing too much about the plot and where the film takes you. Suffice to say this is a well-made film and worth watching, just as long as you know what you are getting into. If you know that, I think you will come away pleasantly surprised. They can still make the small budget, independent films that can outshine most of the big budget garbage that Hollywood pumps out.
It Comes at Night – **** out of 5
It Comes at Night – Rated R for graphic violence, language, scenes of peril and sexual situations
It Comes at Night – Run Time is 91 minutes
It Comes at Night is now available on DVD, On Demand and subscription services. Check your local providers for pricing and availability.