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From its various trailer, posters, and other bits of advertising, you might have assumed that It Comes At Night is a bona-fide horror film. It's understandable that the film has been set up as such, but in reality, it's indefinable. It is as much a psychological thriller, family drama, or a suspense film as it is horror. But rather than being a hodgepodge of mixed ideas, writer/director Trey Edward Shults smartly takes elements from theses genres and uses them to create a genuinely intense and unsettling tale of two families struggling in their tight and confined habitat.
Despite being shot in August 2016, It Comes At Night feels deeply prescient to the here and now of May and June, 2017. This only means that the fear-mongering and paranoia present in the film festers and grows in an even more haunting and disturbing manner, as it delves into your soul and provokes you to shudder in repulsion. This uneasiness doesn't let up, too. Instead, the film goes full throttle with its audaciously morbid tone. While Trey Edward Shults deserves kudos for not retreating from this darkness, it is almost too unrewarding and depressing of a slog. At the same time, though, Shults finds some striking visuals, and the mood created is so engrossing that you'll almost certainly feel the need to take a shower immediately after watching it, which suggests that it fulfills its intention.
You shouldn't be surprised to learn that It Comes At Night opens with a death. We're not sure of the cause of death. All that we know is that the man on the verge has been blighted by a mysterious illness that's so contagious, his deathbed is locked in a room away from the rest of his family, each of whom have to wear masks when they go near him, while Joel Edgerton's patriarch then has to put him out of his misery by shooting him square in the face.
With this sequence, Trey Edward Shults creates an immediately intense world that's still recognizable, yet heightened, as well as outrageously bleak. It has also become the routine for these characters, too, because shortly after we see this death, there's almost a calm as Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) set about burning the body of Bud (David Pendelton), who just so happens to be Travis' grandfather. While it's obviously heartbreaking, they know it is necessary to survive, and survival is all that is in their minds in this dystopian savagery.
But before Paul, Travis, and matriarch Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) can even properly begin their grieving process, they are confronted by Will (Christopher Abbott), who breaks into their home, but insists that he only did so because he believed it was abandoned. Passive aggressive tension soon starts to grip the home, which those inside are only allowed to leave on a must-need basis, and this is only exacerbated when Will's wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) arrive, as well.
It Comes At Night marks the sophomore directorial effort from Trey Edward Shults after 2015's Krisha, and you can certainly feel a progression from his low-budget debut, which saw the filmmaker use his own family as cast members. There's a patience to the film that allows it to smolder and intensify, and because of how effective its set up is, you find yourself leaning in of your own accord. That's despite the fact that a lot of the drama builds from borderline soap opera inklings.
The performances of It Comes At Night's leading foursome are so impressive that they're able to sell these conflicts. Joel Edgerton's Paul is so intent on doing the right thing for his family that he's seemingly unaware of his flaws, while Carmen Ejogo's nervous energy is contagious, the mystery surrounding Christopher Abbott's character constantly adds a tension, and Kevin Harrison Jr. provides the perfect conduit between the film and the audience, as he nonchalantly guides you through his character's spiral.
Obviously, all of the issues at play soon come to a head in an unrelenting fashion. So much so that It Comes At Night will be too dark and grim for a lot of viewers. But those of you that are into such dark arts will revel in just how pulverizing and unnerving a ride it is.