IT COMES AT NIGHT (Dir- Trey Edward Shults, USA, 2017)
Starring- Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough
Another American indie horror arrives with a wealth of praise and has set out to continue the consistent drive of intelligent and original genre flicks coming out from across the shore. Is it a sign of film-makers responding to the increasing polarised splits in the country through politics and society that has caused this rush of horror films that reflect the current climate? Only time will tell. However, one thing for sure Trey Edward Shults IT COMES AT NIGHT does arrive with a marketing campaign that significantly points to this film being a straightforward horror which in reflection it is to an extent. But those expecting a quiet-quiet-boom shock laden horror story might be disappointed.
The film opens with a family disposing of a relative who has been infected by a fatal disease that has supposedly ravaged most of America. The family in question is husband and father Paul (Edgerton) his wife Sarah (Ejogo) and their son Travis (Harrison Jr). The infected relative in question is Sarah’s dad and Travis’s Granddad. The family are locked up in a house in a secluded woodland area. Boarded up and closed off as if to suggest no one is occupying the place. It’s not long though till an intruder breaks in, Will (Abbott), who after being subdued informs Paul that he has a family desperate for food. After eventually trusting Will, Paul brings the family into the boarded up house and it seems as if everyone is getting along fine and working as a unit. Yet its not long before a couple of incidents involving Travis’s dog and the son of Will and his wife Kim (Keough) sets off a tense and chilling conflict between both family groups.
One noticeable trait of IT COMES AT NIGHT is that setting a post apocalyptic story in a woodland area on the edge of civilization will allow the film-makers to at least not worry about the factors of production design or portraying the ravaged city scape that usually features in bigger budgeted outings that feature the world in devastated form. This is however essential to the story as it’s focus is on it’s characters and it also makes the ongoing threat of contagion ever more disturbing as once our characters don gas masks we know that their paranoia of the plague is real and its their actions that lend the films dramatic edge.
Essentially this is a story of decent people driven to desperate means for survival and breakdown in any decency when it comes to folk wanting to protect their own family unit which makes the films conclusion, and I wont lie its not a pretty one, even more darker and in the long run with the characters actions, essentially futile. There is no denying that Shults film has a certain resonance with the current climate in America and even in our own country with a society split and mistrust felt by all sides against every one be it foreign or domestic. Paul’s protection of his own unit and his own boarded up house seems to fend off any intruders yet even welcoming them in eventually leads to confusion and chaos and acting on own selfish impulse which ultimately can seal ones own fate.
Edgerton (who is always a great character actor see THE GIFT for proof of that), also working as executive producer, is brilliant as Paul presenting him as an ex school teacher who seems to relish the role of protector and commander in chief of his house, yet his obsessive nature of sticking to rules and routine distracts him from the fact that his own son is suffering from the nightmarish reality that is happening around to him. As Travis, Harrison Jr, is also brilliant managing to convey the film from his perspective and its from the eventual fiery disposal of his granddad’s corpse that we see the film through his eyes, from listening to Will and Kim’s intimate conversations in the attic space, to his possible affection for her and his own horrific nightmares which add as some of the films intense shock scenes. It might have been better for Shult’s to flesh out the female characters a bit more as they seem more to be in the background for much of the running time. However Ejogo does have one of the best lines in the film that pretty much foretells the bleakness to come. When Paul states that “everything’s gonna be all right, to which she replies, “You don’t honestly believe that do you?”
However Shults also works brilliantly with his cinematographer Drew Daniels to capture the confined space of the house with its widescreen cinematography giving it an edge and elevating it to be its own character. The murky almost entirely dark spaces occasionally lit by lantern or flash light add an intense visual feel. Even a long tracking shot towards a door is filled with tension as in the viewer is left at the mercy of the camera as it approaches making us expect or anticipate either it to be busted open or a loud knock to unsettle bot the characters and the audience in what awaits beyond it.
Like Robert Eggers THE WITCH, IT COMES AT NIGHT portrays the stark breakdown of the family unit and its unwillingness to cope in desperate situations and just like that film from last year this is another fine example of American horror going through a renaissance in both reflecting troubling times and using genre cinema as a template whilst retaining an original independent feel.