The opening scene of Trey Edward Schults’ It Comes at Night focuses on an elderly man, sitting silent with sores covering his body. A trio of people in gas masks tend the older man, nestling him into a wheelbarrow as he wheezes. The home which they emerge from is entirely boarded up, closed off from whatever disease is afflicting the older man. The man is then transported to a hole in the woods, shot, and his body set ablaze. Many of horror films would then take great pains to explain all of the nuances and aspects of this plague that led the shocking scene, but that’s not the kind of movie It Comes at Nice is. Instead, this is a film of escalating dread, an atmospheric examination of grief and terror, and one of the most compelling horror films of the year.
It doesn’t take long for the film to reveal that the man who was just killed was the father of Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and as she grieved her husband Paul (Joel Edgerton) and teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) took care of his earthly remains. This family unit lives day to day with survival paramount on their mind, having instituted a set of rules to evade the specter of death that looms over everything. One night, their sleep is interrupted by an intruder. Paul quickly subdues the young man trying to enter their home, tying him to a tree and interrogating him as to his motives. Will (Christopher Abbott) was searching for supplies to take back to his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). After some trepidation, Paul allows this family into his home and they work together to survive. No matter how close these two families get, Paul has a lasting distrust of anyone outside of his close-knit family and his suspicion grows and grows.
Those expecting that their horror has to explain all the aspects of the plague that has decimated humanity will be sorely disappointed in It Comes at Night, and will have entirely missed the point of Edward Shults’ film. This film eschews expectations of answers and instead opts for a much more terrifying ambiguity that is rooted in its characters and the small bubble they’ve nestled themselves into. For these people, losing each other is more terrifying than the notion of any disease. Their fears aren’t simply limited to the unknown plague itself, but as to the selfish nature of man, a factor that nobody is safe from.
From the opening scenes, Edwards Schults is able to craft maximum amount of tension and sustain it for the entirety of the film. Much of the film’s tension comes from the well-defined nature of Paul’s patriarchal duty in protecting his family. However, there’s pretty much no exposition to the dialogue, instead it’s much more naturalistic with details coming from conversations between Paul and Will. There are glimpses into the hellscape that humanity has become but never anything resembling a deep dive with extensive details.
As these two families settle in under the same roof, Travis finds himself in a curious position. He’s a young man and slowly builds up an infatuation with Kim from a distance, something that is exacerbated by the fact that he’s the only one, with the exception of the young Andrew, without a romantic interest. Since his grandfather’s death, Travis is haunted by nightmares and Edward Schults toys with aspect ratios during these horrific and unsettling sequences. All of which leads to the films bleak and shocking conclusion, one that left a hush over the theater as the credits rolled in complete silence.
It Comes at Night isn’t quite a straightforward horror story with its ambiguity that runs throughout the film, but it’s a remarkable piece of cinema that is consistently compelling as it defies expectations at every turn. Trey Edward Shults understands that the unknown is much more terrifying than the over-explained, and It Comes at Night crafts a small group of compelling characters and places them in a creepy, atmospheric location. There’s no boogeyman. There’s no hope for a cure. There’s just the dread of losing someone you love, and that’s a terror that is universal.
It Comes at Night
- Overall Score
An atmospheric and relentlessly suspenseful exercise in horror, It Comes at Night sustains its tension throughout with an exercise in horror that defies expectations and retains the terror in its ambiguity.