‘It Comes at Night’ stars Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo (of ‘Selma‘), Christopher Abbott, and Riley Keough (of Netflix’s ‘The Discovery‘) in a psychological horror-thriller written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, the filmmaker behind 2015’s indie darling ‘Krisha‘. It centers around a family unit in a dystopian world that suddenly enters a power struggle when they allow another struggling family into their backwoods home.
I say this movie is a horror, and IMDb will say that it is a horror, and the trailers will definitely try and sell this movie as a horror, but this is a different, more agonizing kind of horror, because it’s the type of horror that requires patience and thought. Another recent comparison for this type of genre is Robert Eggers’ ‘The Witch‘, or a more famous example could be something like Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining‘. ‘It Comes at Night‘ did indeed have its moments of scariness, but so much of what makes the film scary in the conventional sense is an underlying tension that only escalates throughout the entire movie.
The way this tension is created is through the direction of someone that I think will have a long and decorated career making movies if he stays on the curve. What Shults manages to do in this movie, rather brilliantly, is keep the audience on pace with the characters, in terms of the information given. For the world this film takes place in, there is definitely something going on, but it’s very unclear what that specific thing is, and the audience is informed just as much as the characters are. What helps create the paranoid feeling is when different characters enter the story, and their versions of events aren’t necessarily correct. In the average film, if a character states something as fact, the audience is expected to take this statement as 100% factual truth. What keeps this film above average is that is very clearly makes its intention known that not everything told will be factual, and to me, this tiny notion of not knowing who I was supposed to believe kept me on the edge of my seat.
Switching directions to talk about the cast, there are six main cast members. There’s Joel Edgerton’s family, consisting of him, his wife Sarah (Ejogo), and their son Travis, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. About 15 minutes into the movie, the secondary family is introduced, played by Christopher Abbott, his wife Kim (Keough), and their infant son Andrew. Every cast member here is fantastic in their respective roles. Joel Edgerton for me is one of the most consistently underrated main actors in the business, and the subtlety he demonstrates here further credits my belief. For Christopher Abbott, this is the first film I have seen that features him prominently, and I found his character to be the most unpredictable, which I credit to not only his excellent performance, but the tone and setting developed by this director. My favorite performance of the movie is that of the main protagonist, Travis. This young actor deserves lots of praise for carrying this story on his shoulders. Despite not being the top billed star, he is clearly the central focus of this story, with lots of the main events being played out through his perception. A main share of the actual jump scares, because there are some in this movie, are done in dream sequences, through Travis’ dreams.
While the actor playing Travis certainly gives a great performance and has many moments wherein the progression of the plot intertwines with his development as a character, my biggest issue with this story revolves around how from a horror perspective, everything that is supernaturally scary occurs in dream sequences, and the dream sequences are pretty easy to spot because the aspect ratio changes, making it simple to spot when it’s a dream.
After leaving the theater, my buddy (we’ll call him Chip) and I were both desperately trying to dissect what was going on in that movie. On the car ride home it was lots of yelling and theorizing about what went down and what made this dystopian world different, and in our opinion, more interesting than most. The ensuing text conversation that went on for the next few hours was even more trippy, as we spelt out our own complete theory as to how this film works. We both walked away absolutely adoring this film, and the fact we could talk about it in such depth further spoke to that, because it revealed that we both were wrapped up attentively in the story.
While some obvious dream sequences and a few illogical decisions impeded my full enjoyment of the movie, there hasn’t been another film this year that had me asking so many questions (as in questions about further understanding the film’s universe, not the questions I asked about ‘The Book of Henry‘, like how the hell did it get made). It’s inconclusive, because as I said earlier, the audience only knows as much as the characters do, so certain pivotal plot points don’t actually have definite answers. Which also makes this the only movie of the year, other than ‘Wonder Woman‘ because duh, that I think requires more than one viewing.
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr.