When you watch the trailer for It Comes At Night and read the tag line (“Fear turns men into monsters”), you’ll assume the film will be a straight horror, but actually, what you get is a low-key mystery about a family forced to take shelter after a virus has wiped out civilisation.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Paul (Joel Edgerton), his son Travis (Kelvin Harrison) and wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) are holding up in a secluded house in the woods. Like in many post-apocalyptic movies, locking away is a choice characters often make, though it’s not ideal because the threat is only outside the door.
But Paul has plenty of guns for protection and strict rules to keep his family safe, with the big one being they never go out a night. There’s always a sense of uncertainty and paranoia within their boarded up house, which is made worse when another family shows up. Can these strangers be trusted? In a constantly cagey atmosphere, the two families decide to live side by side to help each other get through their hardscrabble life.
Just to be clear, there are no brain-eating zombies or traditional supernatural evils waiting in the darkness – yet it’s still relentlessly creepy. It’s a movie made to keep you on edge and give you loads of questions to ponder over. We don’t know much about the world in which the film takes place and that’s the brilliance of it. I hate it when movies spoon-feed audiences information by explaining who everyone is, what happened in the past, what’s happening now etc.
I think it’s very lazy from a filmmaking point of view and not as effective as an ambiguous setting. It Comes At Night is a good example of how no exposition can make what you’re watching much more engaging. As it unfolds, the setting reveals its own backstory through the characters. Did I mention they wear gas masks?
It Comes At Night is something of a genre mash-up: horror, thriller, drama and survival are all covered. The varied genres work well, as they create a really dark tone that never lets you settle.
Even though I eventually started to pick up on where this film was heading, it was still unnerving to watch. From the synthesised musical hues, long pans down hallways, to the blurred perspective when Travis has one of his weird dreams – there is a lot to like.
Not everyone did though, far from it. Upon its release, there was a massive divide between audiences and critics, which I found interesting. It just shows how a film can resonate so differently from person to person. If you take a look at the user reviews on IMDB, you can see how much the general public hated it. I think it comes down to the fact that it was marketed as a traditional horror, yet at heart, it is a claustrophobic drama. Even the title doesn’t quite match with what happens in the film, but it is an impressive, emotionally raw piece of work.
It Comes At Night isn’t your average post-apocalyptic movie. What distinguishes it from others is the way in which it is told. The camera is moved in ways that bring your attention to the film’s limited setting, which makes you feel trapped, like the characters. It’s an uncomfortable watch because there’s never a sense of hope for these people.
The best thing about It Comes At Night is that it’s horribly plausible. It’s ramped up with realism and self-awareness, but let’s hope that the future it envisions never happens because who would want to be stuck in a house all day? This is a truly tense movie that you won’t want to miss.
Directed and written by: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Distributor & Production: A24
Run Time: 91 minutes.
Have you seen It Comes At Night? Do you have any other psychological thrillers or post-apocalyptic movies to recommend? Let me know in the comments.