Written & Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Full disclosure: horror movies are not typically “my thing”. I can appreciate their form and structure. I can appreciate that others get a real kick out of getting scared, or seeing other people get scared. But for me, horror movies don’t occupy a space within my movie watching purview which makes any kind of impact on me in a general sense. I see one and I may or may not get scared, but I neither love nor loathe the experience of feeling scared, and more often than not with horror movies, I don’t feel all that frightened. So I often say to myself, “What’s the point?” Well in some cases, horror movies can be impeccably made, boasting such cinematic classics as Halloween or The Silence of the Lambs, which seem to transcend the genre for me. Is It Comes at Night one of those films? Not quite, but I still submit that Trey Edward Shults is an artist to watch.
As the follow up to his acclaimed debut film Krisha (which regrettably I did not see), It Comes at Night marks writer/director Trey Edward Shults first full entry into the horror genre. Set in the remote wilderness during a suspicious and unknown disease outbreak, the film begins with a family fighting for survival. Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live in a boarded up house, avoiding the outside at night if at all possible. But when a stranger named Will (Christopher Abbott) tries to break into the house, thinking it vacant, in order to save his own family (Riley Keough and Griffin Robert Faulkner), tension begins to mount as paranoia and a lack of trust between the families begins to mount.
Trey Edward Shults cut his teeth working on films by such auteurs as Terrence Malick (Song to Song) and Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special), so it should be no surprise that the greatest strength of It Comes at Night is in its ability to be a sharp, visually appealing narrative which explores the relationships we are able to make with other people, tenuous as they may be. It Comes at Night certainly has elements of horror, but by focusing instead on the relationships between these people, Shults makes a human film first, which only helps to fuel the horror found within it. A lack of trust breeds paranoia and vice versa, so given the mysterious and intentionally vague situation Paul and his family find themselves in, tension builds naturally the longer they are together with Will and his family. It is a genius stroke in building the atmosphere of the film.
The atmosphere, and in particular the mood, throughout the film take the rather drab, dreary and uneventful plot and turn it into a compelling slow burn which left me wondering what might happen next. The cinematography of the film, from the lighting to the staging and camera movements help dial the tension up, taking Shults’ standard, sparse screenplay and creating a visually haunting and splendid film. The screenplay doesn’t allow for a ton of exposition, with Shults more apt to show then tell, and sometimes not to show at all, leaving much to the imagination and horror of the viewer. I’m not exactly sure what Shults might be playing at with his tale, but the experience of it makes it worthwhile.
Cryptic, and leading to a place of uncertainty, It Comes at Night succeeds as a sophomore film for Trey Edward Shults insomuch as it proves he has massive potential and a firm understanding of mise-en-scene. This film features an upgrade in cast, with the wonderful Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo, making me even more curious with what Shults might be able to accomplish with a slightly larger budget. This genre film doesn’t have a lot of meat on the bone, and I left the theater not sure what to make of it, but that just might have been the point. That bit of ennui resulting from the experience of tension and paranoia throughout the efficient runtime make It Comes at Night more of a film to experience in the moment and figure out later, a film which lurches and frightens in unconventional ways.