All images courtesy of A24
When filmmaker Trey Edward Shults premiered his debut feature Krishna at South by Southwest to great acclaim, the masses were chomping at the bit for his next project. That brings us to his latest, IT COMES AT NIGHT, a psychological horror thriller set in a post-apocalyptic world that follows a vigilant family living in a desolate home in the woods that decides to take in another family seeking refuge. At first, the two families work together and make nice with each other, but as the story unfolds, certain events lead to feelings of fear and paranoia. With It Comes at Night, Shults shows his savvy and brilliance in framing a quiet thriller, but even with all the scares and mystery, it leaves you unsatisfied and disappointed.
The film starts with the death of an elderly man, who has obviously been suffering for a while with a mysterious sickness. Surrounded by his gas mask-wearing family, his daughter Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) says her final goodbyes while her son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and husband Paul (Joel Edgerton) watch. Isolated in an undisclosed location, they try to move on with their everyday lives as they mourn their loss. They are clearly in a dystopian situation where the rest of the world is decaying away and they remain a self-sustaining unit, surviving whatever their apocalyptic situation is (we never really know why or what happened to the world).
Sarah and Paul are constantly on guard and heavily armed while Travis is curious and seemingly more compassionate. Their world is thrown for a loop when they catch a man breaking into their house in the middle of the night. Paul holds the man prisoner and forces him to talk. The man, Will (Christopher Abbott) claims he thought the house was abandoned and was breaking in to find supplies for his family who live miles away. At first, Paul doesn’t believe him, but Will basically says, “Yo, I have chickens, goats, and a lot of supplies. We can help each other.” Paul is like “OK. I’ll drive you to your house and pick up your family to live here, but if you’re lying you are so busted.”
Turns out Will is telling the truth. His wife Kim (Riley Keough) and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) come live with Paul and his brood. All is well as they hit it off immediately. They all eat dinner together, chop wood, and do other post-apocalyptic chores as one big happy family. But the honeymoon is over when a particular incident causes Paul and Sarah to question Will’s intentions. But no matter how volatile and nasty things get in their dystopian vacation home, it still isn’t enough to make this the satisfying thriller it could have been.
Don’t get me wrong — there are plenty of finely constructed scenes that make for good cinema. Shults makes excellent choices and has a fine eye for filmmaking while the talented Edgerton leads a cast of actors that step their game up to the nth power. Ejogo is fantastic, while Abbott and Keough serve up some serious dystopian realness. And let’s not forget about up and coming actor Harrison, an optimistic and empathetic performance in a film that is so dark and dreary. The acting was superb. It was the execution of the film as a whole that was frustrating.
All the pieces of a finely packaged thriller are there, but the movie never reached a point to put it over the edge as a memorable movie of the same ilk like It Follows. What bothered me the most is that — SPOILER ALERT — there is no solid resolution. I don’t have a problem with movies that leave the ending up for an interpretation, but with a title like It Comes at Night, you better sure as hell give the audience a big reveal of what the “it” is. The movie may have been nuanced with subtext as to what the “it” is, but in a movie like this, there would have been more satisfaction the “it” was some sort of physical entity. The post-apocalyptic world Shults created calls for it, but in the end, it fizzles out with metaphor and mystery that is just plain boring.
It Comes at Night is a thriller that makes you reflect on humanity and loyalty. Like many post-apocalyptic movies, it waxes poetic on survival and the price you have to pay for it. I totally admire that Shults made this film to illustrate poignant themes, but sometimes you just want a big scary monster in the forest that violently kills victims one by one. And even though it kind of hints at a physical beast threatening the lives of these paranoid people, this movie didn’t give any of that at all.
Running time: 91 minutes
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Film Critic