Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere screening of Krisha director Trey Edward Shults’ second feature film, It Comes At Night, at the Overlook Film Festival in Mount Hood, Oregon. Just before the showing we were told that there’s still some work to be done on the piece, but Shults could have fooled me. It Comes At Night marks yet another thoughtful, disturbing chiller for A24, which continues to cement itself as a source for high quality horror.
The large majority of the story takes place in and around one house tucked away in the woods. That’s where Joel Edgerton’s character, Paul, and his family – Carmen Ejogo as his wife Sarah and Kelvin Harrison Jr. as their son Travis – are hiding out and keeping to themselves in an effort to keep safe from some sort of highly transmissible sickness. Paul takes the “trust no one” approach to their extremely cautious and methodical lifestyle, but ultimately he decides to invite another family into their home. Initially he thinks they’ll all be better off for it, but the decision almost immediately sparks distrust and tension.
Action and gore can bring a lot of intensity to a scenario like this but It Comes At Night gets its suspense not really for those reasons, but largely because it’s atmospheric and character-driven. Right from the start you’re well aware of how dire the situation is, get a very clear understanding of how Paul and his family operate to stay safe, and perhaps most importantly, how close they are with one another. That results in an experience where the disease itself is scary, but the thought of this family losing a loved one is even scarier.
And that doesn’t just apply to Paul’s family. The same goes for Will (Christopher Abbott), Kim (Riley Keough) and Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) too, and that’s what makes It Comes At Night an especially powerful mystery. It’s a movie about how far you’ll go to protect your family and Shults explores that with almost every single character in the movie. It is abundantly clear that they’re all capable of doing terrible things to protect their loved ones and when you pair that understanding with the eerie score and stunning visuals – including that creepy red door and shots that are lit with a single lantern – it creates a feeling that you’re trapped and also that things could explode at any moment, making It Comes At Night extremely chilling and tense from start to finish.
The script, visuals and score are on point, as are all the performances. Per usual, Edgerton makes for a rock solid lead, someone who feels like a very capable leader but also someone who’s vulnerable because he’s a relatable, decent human being. Ejogo and Keough don’t get the spotlight as much, but both deliver great work, especially when it comes to solidifying their respective families as strong units. But the two standout performances here are definitley Abbott and Harrison Jr. Abbott is probably still most well known for his work on the HBO show Girls, but he’s really someone you should be keeping an eye on. No matter what he’s in, he always gives the impression that he gives 100% of himself to a role and It Comes At Night is no different. Then there’s Harrison Jr. Shults does some really interesting and unexpected things with that character, and Harrison Jr. takes advantage of that in a way that makes his story one of the most impactful of the whole film.
I’m all for blood and guts, and narratives that involve grand scale outbreaks or a race to find a cure, but there’s really nothing scarier than a tale that’s purely about the fight to save the ones you love. Shults could have swapped the aforementioned sickness for just about any other type of condition or threat and It Comes At Night would still work just as well, and that’s a big reason why it’s so unforgettable and haunting. The decisions the characters make throughout the film are deeply rooted in who they are, not strictly because this disease forces them to make that choice, and that makes It Comes At Night an all-consuming and deeply disturbing film.
It Comes At Night will be released on June 9