4 out of 5
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
‘It Comes At Night’ is a horrible movie, in the sense that you’re sitting there, enmeshed in the horrors the characters experience. I don’t mean for this to simply be a cheeky way to start things out, but rather to underline the film’s effectiveness at making you question and doubt every decision someone makes for how close to home it hits – how human it all is – and for how inescapably unfair and ungood such scenarios would be when there is no “right” decision, just decisions that take you from one moment to the next. There are some fair criticisms for how writer / director Trey Edward Shults handles presenting these scenarios – mainly that things are too open-ended to maintain the drama – but this also frees the movie up to slip between points of view a bit so it’s not just a one-sided take, and it’s very clearly never going to be about explaining things from the get-go, so watching it with that in mind allows the focus to be on the drama, instead of whatever plot twists other takes on this genre might employ.
It perhaps also helps that I’m watching this while relatively quarantined due to the 2020 COVID pandemic.
‘It Comes At Night’ opens with a family’s grandfather dying. He’s in a converted clean room in a forest-surrounded house, covered in buboes, pupils pale, and coughing up black bile. At a certain point, the father, Paul (Joel Edgerton), outfitted in gas mask and gloves, takes him out to the forest and finishes the job, while his son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) watches. They bury him.
Scant details trickle in: the source of the death is some type of virus, and it’s quick acting. The rest is assumed through the family’s actions (which also includes wife Sarah – Carmen Ejogo), sanitizing water and taking care with going outside and handling of potential infected things. However, we’re also lacking the usual radio report / newspaper headline that fills in the rest, which gives the film a frightening (and again, rather timely edge): what’s scarier is what’s not known. You quickly get the sense that these precautions are just that, and that we don’t really know what the virus is, or how it spreads.
The family is woken up at night by the sound of someone breaking in. Will (Christopher Abbott) is searching for supplies for his own wife and son. Paul stops him, and Will is put through a rough interrogation, preceding his family coming to stay with Paul and the crew.
Whereby things should usually progress into a series of whodunnits and backstabbings and second guessings, and the film does do that, but in a much more subdued, and realistic manner that is wholly more unnerving for those reasons. Small slip-ups in conversation; the emotional curiosities that occur when you’re isolated.
As with Shults’ previous film, Krisha, there is a certain point where you realize we’re not going to move far beyond where we are with these characters and this story; that what you see is sort of what you get. In Krisha, that meant I reached saturation with the movie about halfway through, but ‘It Comes At Night’ has the benefit of more characters and concepts to play with, sustaining its full runtime. I was actually surprised by how quickly it ended. And maybe those of a different demeanor will not find the character’s attitudes as engrossing – and there is a rather large gap here where it feels like we’re only getting the men’s points of view – but I found things to relate to with Paul, Will, and Travis each, and they’re all of a different mix of aggression and passivity, the camera following each like a curious onlooker so that we feel included in conversations, and in their confinement, equally caught up in their uncertainties, and the scarily relatable feeling of ‘damned if you do…’