It Comes At Night (2017)

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner, David Pendleton.

Director: Trey Edward Shults
Rating: R (for violence, disturbing images, and language.)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Date: June 9, 2017

Animal Kingdom and A24.

Written by: Trey Edward Shults.

OUR REVIEW:

It Comes At Night is a movie that is hard to discuss, because a) it is not the movie you are being told it is, and b) all the surprises come in recognizing what the film is not. Always mindful of spoilers, we shall tread lightly.

The second feature from director Trey Edward Shults. and a film offering a stark contrast to your Mummys, Wonder Womans, and those pesky Pirates of the Caribbean, this is a bleak, intimate seat-shifting psychological look at fear and paranoia. This is a good thing, although audiences have no idea that they are getting something akin to an arthouse film, smack dab in the middle of a summer full of blockbusters, superheroes, sequels, prequels, and all the rest.

Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott in “It Comes At Night” | A24

Shults’ first film was the terrific 2016 family drama Krisha, a clever, unnerving, and deeply personal film involving a family member’s reunion and ultimate disruption of her family’s Thanksgiving holiday. Despite the marketing, Shults has a different idea of the types of things that go bump in the night and in identifying that things which we should most be afraid of – namely, ourselves.

The basics of the plot are this: A family grieves of the death of a grandfather, afflicted with some type of sickness that causes you to hemorrhage blood and develop welts, sores, and bruises on your body. We begin to recognize that we are in some sort of post-apocalyptic landscape where food and water is rationed, gas masks are worn when walking outside, and Paul (Joel Edgerton) is fiercely protective of a fragile world he has helped create with wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their 17-year-old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.).

As the reside in their “Cabin in the Woods”, a unsettling noise is heard between a section of the house that is closed off between two red doors. Somehow, a man, later identified as Will (Christopher Abbott) has broken into the house, desperate to find water and supplies for his young family. After a queasy trust is established, Paul goes to assist Will, his young wife Kim (Riley Keough), and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). He offers them shelter and brings them home, where a survivor’s bond starts to form between the two families.

We should stop there. Saying more cheats the mystery and suspense over what Shults has crafted, but it is very clear that mainstream ticket-buyers are going to become deeply polarized over It Comes At Night. On the one hand, the critic in me loves the risk that A24 is taking in putting this film out in wide release, especially during the summer. And a part of me also empathizes with the 20-something son and his parents, who sat near me at my screening, told others next to them how much they love horror films, and then sat completely baffled and perplexed at what they just witnessed.

While Shults’ film goes to some cold and disturbing places over 90-plus minutes, he is clearly a gifted filmmaker. His ability to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, be it in a dimly lit kitchen or out in the expanse of the woods is impressive. Tension, fear, and unrest loom in every frame of It Comes At Night and it is almost impossible to not shift in your seat frequently watching this film tell its story.

Days removed from watching the film however, I cannot shake the feeling that there is just something missing here, an ingredient or two that could have elevated this from being an unnerving thriller you debate with your friends for hours, into something deeply profound and powerful that earns a potential cult status among moviegoers.

Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Carmen Ejogo, and Griffin Robert Faulkner in “It Comes At Night” | A24

We have dream sequences, scenes where we are left to question motivations and the truths placed before us, and even a few unanswered plot developments to kick around in the car ride back home. With so much to admire here, I must also confess that I am not entirely convinced that It Comes At Night is as successful a film as it feels like in the moment. There’s an abruptness here that is hard to accept, distancing even, placing the film almost too far away from its audience to resonate or connect.

Shults may appreciate ambiguity more than most mainstream audiences will, but with Krisha and this film, his obsession with digging into the minds of vulnerable people, who are teetering on-the-edge, and forced to make impulsive, in-the-moment decisions makes him an artist that we need to pay attention to.

It Comes At Night is a haunting elegy, grinding and halting in equal measure. I admire its fearlessness and bold approach to its storytelling. If anything, the film may be a bit too fixated on desolation, but stands as an eye-opening experience that will leave you sitting in your chair for a few long moments once the credits fade to black.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

SHOULD I SEE IT?

YES

  • Trey Edward Shults is a name we need to pay attention to. This guy is a talented storyteller who has a refreshing and unique vision for making movies.
  • Haunting in mood and atmosphere, It Comes At Night earns great performances from it’s cast, but also places us deep into a world full of confusion, fear, paranoia, and distrust.
  • Perhaps more than any movie to play in wide release of recent memory, this is not the movie you think it is.

 NO

  • Perhaps more than any movie to play in wide release of recent memory, this is not the movie you think it is.
  • There is very little uplift or happy in Shults’ searing look at a post-apocalyptic world where fear and distrust permeate. Those who do not like ambiguity or difficult moments of violence should stay away.
  • MILD SPOILERS: Those sensitive to animals or youth in peril should be warned in advance before seeing the film.
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