As an undisclosed threat rages outside, a family are faced with a difficult decision when another family begs them for shelter.
It Comes at Night is an effortlessly unsettling and atmospheric gem that rivals The Witch as one of the most impressive chillers of the decade. Through its smart combination of suspense-inducing long takes and appreciation of the beauty that can reside in even the scariest of horror films, Trey Shults manages to craft a stunning genre film that will be remembered for years to come.
As soon as it begins it’s clear that this film is special. The opening sequence becomes a clever summation of what’s to come, embodying It Comes at Night’s intention to blend post-apocalyptic-style horror with realistic and, sometimes painful, human drama. The looming atmosphere that is laced with dread, mystery and uncertainty is countered with familiar thematic emotions concerning fear, trust and love. It’s not clear what’s happening outside the claustrophobic setting of the house, but what resides within is scarily recognisable.
The film’s grounding in realism is one of its greatest strengths that is furthered by the sterling performances from Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo, as well as Kelvin Harrison Jr., who is superb. It is easy to see parts of your own personality in Paul’s (Edgerton) need to protect what he loves, as well as Sarah’s (Ejogo) desperation to see the goodness in a group of strangers. Travis (Harrison Kr.) becomes the film’s most complex character; the battle he faces with growing up as a regular teenager in a world that is far from ordinary allows the film to explore ideas surrounding sexuality, the human mind and the impossible ideal of normality.
Thematically, It Comes at Night is a medley of different ideas and intentions, but there is an opposing simplicity in the film’s execution. It Comes at Night steers away from the more obvious tropes and elements associated with horror films and, instead, embraces an understanding of what truly will scare an audience: the unknown, the darkness and the night. These are simple fears to hone in on, but sometimes – and It Comes at Night proves it – it is effective to keep the frights uncomplicated. There are no needless jump scares here or monsters going bump in the night, but there is an unnerving veil of terror shrouding the film’s events that makes it impossible not to feel uneasy. There are nail-biting moments of suspense thanks to those exquisite long-takes and a slow-burning escalation of the narrative’s events that will heighten any audience’s fear and anticipation of what’s to come. It Comes at Night shows that a foreboding atmosphere can go a long way, especially when it’s accompanied by a tight and unpredictable storyline.
Nowadays, it is almost unheard of for a horror film to take you by surprise. Even impressive modern efforts like It Follows and The Babadook owe a lot to films that came before them. It Comes at Night is no different with its touches of 28 Days Later and The Thing, as well as similarities to more recent efforts like The Survivalist, Stake Land and, of course, Robert Eggers’ The Witch. However, for all its familiarities, It Comes at Night still manages the difficult task of remaining unpredictable throughout.
Some audiences may be unimpressed by It Comes at Night’s focus on atmosphere and tone, but straying away from the importance of narrative is what bodes so well for its unpredictability and surprise. Much like the unimportance of what it occurring on the outside world – no matter how scary it is suggested to be – the journey from A to B is not significant. The significance lies in the feelings and emotions of the characters, as they struggle with their inner turmoil and what plagues them morally and psychologically.
The characters are handled with such care, with each of their movements a carefully crafted decision to help the audience understand their motivations, decisions and feelings. Eyes become the windows to each of their souls, where a sideward glance can speak more than a thousand words. It is the attention to detail in moments like these – where the meals at the dinner table reveal much of what they are thinking – that will convince you that It Comes at Night is a terrifyingly intricate work of art; one that will creep under your skin and remain there while you try to come to terms with the film’s lingering, unforgettable events.
It Comes at Night is a uniquely scary ride into a mysteriously unknown world that excels thanks to the confident direction from Trey Shults, the performances from his cast and the collaborative effort between him and his cinematographer Drew Daniels. Together, they have delivered a film that is beautiful inside and out and impossibly frightening.
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)