Review: It Comes At Night
Director Trey Edward Schultz's debut came at the helm of a family drama entitled Krisha. That film starred members of his own family and told a story filled with complicated personal squabbles that seemed to perpetually teeter right on the edge of uncomfortable. And while It Comes At Night represents a darker and more horror-laden effort for the young director, some of those same elements are on full display here. This is a story about people and their inability to trust one another even when doing so is essential. Most of the fear-inducing elements come from what these characters see and don't see when they look into the eyes of the other characters. If it can even be properly classified as horror, Schultz makes clear, the real horror is us.
The story opens with a family saying goodby to a parent/grandparent. It is clear this person is sick, but it is not clear exactly what that means. As the events of the film unfold, we come to understand that the story is taking place in some sort of post-apocalyptic dystopia where a sickness is spreading and seclusion is the solution. Paul (played by Joel Edgerton) and his wife, Sarah, (played by Carmen Ejogo) and son, Travis (played by Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), occupy a house in the woods and only go out during the day for fear of whatever the night may bring. This arrangement works well for them until a stranger pleads with them to take his family in.
With six people now living in the house--sharing food, water and space--a number of uncomfortable interactions take place. As things go from tense to cataclysmic, the film shows the kind of devolution that is possible when people stop trusting one another. It explores companionship and the lack thereof and ultimately demonstrates the frailty of human interaction.
More than anything, the film is about a mood. For many, the unnerving sense of dread that perpetually bubbles under the surface here may not be an enjoyable experience. Most of the more traditional horror elements come during Travis' dreams, which because they are always filmed differently from the main events, never really feel like they are an actual threat to our characters. In fact, the film plays with aspect ratios and filming styles in subtle ways that work to show a tension between perception and reality. It seeks to show the ways in which what we believe becomes real regardless of the underlying circumstances. That intentional dissonance might lessen the stakes for some viewers in a way that was not intended.
If you are someone who requires more answers than questions in your films, this one may not be for you. But if you are willing to ignore the unanswered, there is enough here for a fulfilling experience. Not unlike last year's Arrival, it offers a thoughtful critique on human being's natural inclinations toward mistrust. And in an age where it seems like we are creating more and more "others," perhaps humanity would be well-served by learning the weighty lessons we see Paul coming to grips with in the final frames of the movie. Essentially, if this is what survival must ultimately look like, why bother?
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