IT COMES AT NIGHT (15)
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Screenplay: Trey Edward Shults
Review: RJ Bland
Although the world is actually safer than it has probably ever been, there is a distinct feeling that we are on uncertain ground – and that things might change for the worse sometime very soon. Global warming, polar ice caps melting, world terrorism, North Korea, Trump...it's no wonder that people are a little worried about the future and the resurgence of post apocalyptic fare (The Walking Dead is a prime example) is a clear indication that it's in people's minds. On some level horror has always reflected the fears of society at the time and It Comes At Night is an echo of those anxieties.
After a contagion has laid waste to the outside world, Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harris Jr) barricade themselves into their secluded country home. We join the family in the midst of tragedy. Sarah's father has been quarantined after becoming infected – and he is soon put out of his misery by Paul and burnt in the woods outside their home. It's safe to say the mood is a little sombre as they sit down and share dinner together that evening. However, the mourning is interrupted one evening when an intruder tries to break into their house. He is quickly disarmed and tied up. The man, Will, denies he is infected with the virus and says that he has a wife and young son and that he was simply trying to find supplies for them. Sarah and Paul debate their next move. Should they let him go? Kill him? Or invite this man and his family into their home and their lives?
If you do a bit of research, it becomes apparent that It Comes At Night is a film that has divided audiences and critics. And by that, I mean that critics have been very impressed but the film going public have had a lot more reservations about it. Indeed, at the screening I attended (it was in the company of the bog-standard joe public and not esteemed critics), when the credits rolled, there was almost an audible and collective groan from some of those watching. Clear disappointment from many quarters. The thing is, I think a lot of that comes down to their expectation of what kind of a film they were hoping/expecting to see not being met, rather than a comment on the quality of the actual movie itself.
The premise (and the trailer itself to some degree) hints at a certain type of movie. As does the title of the film itself. It Comes At Night. What comes at night? Is it bloodthirsty zombie creatures? Is the film going to be a 28 Weeks Later style action fest? The answer is no. What we have here is a far more intimate, realistic, slow burn. Yes there is blood, yes there is tension, yes there is action. But it is not as heavy handed or as frequent as you might be expecting. If you go into it knowing what not to expect then it may enhance your experience because at the end of the day, It Comes At Night is a very well made film.
Director Trey Edward Shults is a relative newcomer to the industry - the critically acclaimed comedy-drama Krisha (2015) is the only notable previous feature on his resume. It Comes At Night may retain the same raw and truthful undercurrent, however it is a very different type of film. Although essentially a novice Director (no disrespect meant there!), Trey Edward Shults treats us to a remarkably mature and assured 90 minutes of film-making. This is a dark movie, both tonally and aesthetically. The sense of isolation and foreboding is as thick as Joel Edgerton's beard – and Shults knows how to create a sense of dread and anxiety from seemingly innocuous scenes and encounters. One in particular where Paul and Will share a bottle of whisky is particularly effective. A relaxing drink between new friends becomes suddenly laced with tension. Human nature is what this film is an examination of and the results aren't always pretty. Being a good person and survival don't always go hand in hand.
With such a small cast list (there are less than ten people in the entire film), the importance of the central acting performances becomes even more paramount. On that count, It Comes At Night is a roaring success. Edgerton is in fine form as the intense father of the household. He is a man that clearly loves his family very much and will do whatever he needs to do to protect them. Carmen Ejodo and Christopher Abbott both give nuanced turns but it is Kelvin Harrison Jr that gives the stand out performance. Being a teenager in a post apocalyptic world is a challenge in itself and he is hugely impressive here, giving us a character that is realistically raw in his emotions and trying to make sense of life as it changes. We hope – and expect – to see a lot more of this guy in the future.
However, some of the reservations that a lot of cinema audiences have are not without foundation. The set up, whilst intriguing, is nothing that we haven't really seen before. Films (and TV series) set in a post-apocalyptic world are not uncommon nowadays. The Walking Dead has given us all our fair share of character studies in this type of situation – and the same criticisms that are levelled at that particular series will be levelled at this too. Not enough action, too much filler, too slow, more zombies. And whilst the focus on the internal and domestic issues is interesting enough for some, others will be looking for more exploration of the external threat. The film is also quite bleak and realistically gritty, it can feel quite heavy and claustrophobic at times. That's all intentional but it may make for a melancholy experience for some. As mentioned before, the ending will also irk a few people.
These things aside, this is still a movie worth recommending. The assured direction, solid acting performances and intelligent script are all things that elevate this above most other end-of-the-world fare. And keep a look out for Shults and Harrison Jr, surely big stars of the future.