Imagine the end of the world. Now imagine something worse. Award-winning filmmaker Trey Edward Shults follows his incredible debut feature Krisha with It Comes at Night, a horror film following a man (Joel Edgerton) as he learns that the evil stalking his family home may be only a prelude to horrors that come from within. Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, the tenuous domestic order he has established with his wife and son is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate young family seeking refuge. Despite the best intentions of both families, paranoia and mistrust boil over as the horrors outside creep ever-closer, awakening something hidden and monstrous within him as he learns that the protection of his family comes at the cost of his soul.
Similar to A24’s previous horror hit The Witch, this film relies on the principle location to establish fear and urgency. Paul, Sarah, and their son Travis live an isolated life as they try to avoid the implied pandemic. After catching a man trying to break into their house Paul ties him to a tree and lets him wither away. Eventually he interrogates the man and realizes that he’s desperately looking for supplies to support his family. This leads to the young family of three moving in with Paul and co. At the first table meeting Paul stresses to Will (Christopher Abbott) and Kim (Riley Keough) that the red door stay shut, always, as that is the only way in and out of the house.
Director Trey Edward Shults takes advantage of the location thanks to the long, drawn out shots that show the vast, remote forest. This leads to the viewer to believe that something is out there, whether it be literal or figuratively. At one point Paul tells his son (Kelvin Harrison Jr) that the only people that can be trusted are family and that their guards can’t be let down. The films dour tone stays consistent throughout as the haunting atmosphere is a lingering presence. The score is unsettling and has the viewer always anticipating the next scare.
It Comes at Night isn’t the traditional horror film that relies on jump scares and graphic blood. Instead the film does a great job of provoking dread by teasing the possibilities of what lives outside the red door. We get multiple shots of the long hallway that eventually pushes in to the red door, which has been the big marketing prop up until its release date. The red door offers a few different theories, whether it be the border that keeps the sane from going insane or something more simple such as the divide between the sick and the healthy. The door has more relevance after Will tries to break into the house early on in the film. From there on we’re led to believe that the house is being stalked, by what though? It’s not important.
The tough love relationship between Paul and Travis is fascinating as the son becomes conflicted with the decisions of his father. Both families share their supplies and form a bond for a short time before an event escalates and they’re left doubting each other. Edgerton’s Paul, a former teacher, could be seen as paranoid or playing it safe depending on the viewer. He’s willing to do anything for the wellbeing of his wife and kid. Kelvin Harrison Jr’s character might have the biggest arc as his character Travis is forced to grow up and face the facts. Carmen Ejogo plays the wife and mother who is more than capable of defending herself if need be. Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough are both good in their roles despite not having a lot to do.
It Comes at Night benefits from a script that features a trio of fleshed out, captivating characters that make this post apocalyptic-like story seem authentic. Shults’ less is more approach works here thanks to the viewers being invested in the characters. There are questions left unanswered but it seams appropriate for a film so bleak and hopeless. The tense, unbearable terror that Shults triggers with It Comes at Night makes for a wild theater experience.