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[Overlook Review] ‘It Comes at Night’ is a Haunting Post-apocalyptic Fever Dream

With a title like It Comes at Night, you’d think that this is a movie about a monster that lives in the woods. You’d probably imagine some sort of mythological creature hunting a loving family down, and picking them off mercilessly, one by one, under the cover of darkness. You’d be wrong.

Trey Edward Schults’ It Comes at Night is a moody post apocalyptic fever dream, in which a seventeen-year-old boy named Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), his father Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) all live together in a cramped little house out in the wilderness in a world where an unnamed disease has wiped out the majority of the popuation. Somber and merciless, the movie opens up with an extreme close-up shot of the wiltering face of Paul and Sarah’s father, as he has clearly caught whatever sickness it is that’s keeping these folks locked up in this house with gas masks and plastic covered walls. Sarah cries and tells her dad it’s okay, he can let go now, and Travis and Paul then take his atrophied body outside in a wheel barrow, dump him on the ground, shoot him, light his body on fire, and bury his corpse in the hard earth. And this all happens before the title card even pops up.

Possibly alerted to their presence by the smoke fuming off of the body, a visitor appears late one night, trying to break into their home donning a bandana and a rifle. He says his name is Will (Christopher Abbott), and he’s just trying to collect enough food and water to bring back to his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their little boy Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). Unsure of his intentions and all too aware of what could happen if he let the guy go free, Paul ties Will up to a tree outside, leaves him overnight, questions him, and then finally agrees to let Paul and his family come and live with them only because it seems like the most logical way to handle the situation. Although the gang gets along swimmingly at first, it’s not long before someone gets infected, tensions arise, and the people who briefly called themselves friends come to blows. Paul tells Travis at one point that you “can’t trust anybody but family”, but as he will soon learn, the greatest thing to fear in these woods isn’t the disease, or the people hoping to take their food away. The monster resides within himself.

[Related] All Overlook Film Festival Coverage HERE

Having recently lost his father to cancer, writer/director Trey Edward Shults felt inspired to make a picture about the way that sickness can affect human behavior. Shults calls this movie a personal project, saying that he was in a very dark place when he wrote it, and his state of mind is quite evident by this disturbingly dark portrayal of families in turmoil. The bubonic plague served as the jumping off point for the illness in the movie (the disease is never named), but Shults says that the sickness itself is not nearly as important as the effect that is has on everyone that comes into contact with it.

It’s not about what the sickness is, but rather, how it tears us apart and turns us into demonic versions of ourselves. These are good people in this movie, driven mad by illness and paranoia and claustrophobia. Like wild animals backed into a corner, the inhabitants of this household lash out at one another at the slightest sign of trouble, unable to trust one another, and quick to turn on anyone who starts to show signs of the plague that has infiltrated their once safe world. They are torn apart by their survival instincts; made monsters by their own self preservation. It’s tragic and unsettling, but it oozes with authenticity and heartbreak.

The eternal battle between kindness and wisdom, logic and emotion has doomed these two families long before they ever came into contact with one another, and now, it’s just a matter of time before one of the groups wipes each other out, all in the name of making it through just one more day alive.

Beautifully shot on an Alexa camera, all of the nightmare sequences teeter gracefully in the void between reality and fantasy, deceiving the audience of what’s real and what’s not until the very end. The whole cast is superb, especially (and not surprisingly Joel Edgerton), and the commentary of the film cuts to the very core of the viewers’ being. Trey Edward Shults is a goddamn visionary, and although the version of the film that the Overlook Film Festival patrons witnessed this weekend isn’t quite finished yet, this is a movie that is not to be missed. It might just wind up being the best genre film of the year.


13 Comments
  • Can’t wait!!

  • Wil McMullen

    This sounds interesting. Im looking forward to seeing this.

  • J Jett

    Kalyn, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for bring back(?) the skulls rating system (to go along with your written review)!! i am definitely looking forward to seeing this movie but i’m waiting on reading any reviews about what happens in it (i plan on returning here to read your review after i see the film) and the skull ratings (which stopped appearing on this site for some reason) allows me/us to get an idea of a movie without any spoilers. so thank you again for including skulls! i can’t wait to see this movie!

    • Creepshow

      I didn’t read it either, and that’s a shame. Certain people’s reviews are WAY too much information “play-by-plays”. It’s one thing to “review” a film, and it’s another thing to have a complete “walk through” of it. The skulls help us know that a movie is decent, without reading someone’s diarrhea of the mouth. I’ve learned that Kalyn could use a “double shot” of Pepto Bismol before writing her reviews.

  • Corey

    Kinda sounds like it has a bit of a “The Last of Us” vibe without the monsters. I’m excited for it.

  • Vesuvian Villain

    I’m starting to come to terms with the idea that Joel Edgerton is extremely talented and might start raising the bar on acting and screenwriting in horror. If they can pull this off it could make another significant difference for R-rated. I may be wrong but I would assume the primary reason studios are more willing to finance PG-13 horror is based on profit. They believe if you’re adding 13-16 year olds into the market, you’re making more money. But as we all know, any fan of horror is going to see the movie, regardless of age if they’ve been told it’s actually scary. Their parents or siblings will get them in.

    There might also be the idea that there are more movie theaters willing to carry PG-13 horror films over R. Haven’t really looked into that. But the point is, Deadpool made a significant difference for R rated in general. If this movie is genuinely scary, and the new IT is decent, studios might start to adjust accordingly.

    And I’m not saying there haven’t been great PG-13 horror movies, but personally, I tend to enjoy the R rated a lot more.

  • sliceanddice

    Looking forward to this but would like to go in blind.

  • Micah Unice

    I was there last night too, and as well-written as this review is, it’s a little spoilerific. Not knowing whether or not there was another (nonhuman) threat beyond the disease enhanced the experience for me. The less people are told the better IMO.

  • Shay Lauderdale

    Is Paul & Sarah brother & sister or husband & wife?? You put at the beginning that “the movie opens up with an extreme close-up shot of the wiltering face of Paul and Sarah’s father”, but before that the characters are described as “in which a seventeen-year-old boy named Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), his father Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) all live together”.
    Paul & Sarah are his parents, but they have the same father??

    • Micah Unice

      Paul and Sarah are married, and the dying man in the opening shot is Sarah’s biological father. Shults said in the q&a that the words Sarah speaks in that scene are the same ones he said to his own father IRL moments before he died. It’s powerful.

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