I’ve been excited for A24 and director Trey Edward Shults’ new film It Comes at Night since I saw the first trailer. I went dark on it after that, but a grounded post-apocalyptic movie starring The Gift’s Joel Edgerton sounded like an awesome summer horror movie. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s a tense and scary cabin in the woods tale from start to finish.
Edgerton plays Paul, a man who lives out in a giant house in the woods with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and his father-in-law Bud (David Pendleton). An extremely contagious virus that spreads on contact with an infected person has killed off what is implied to be a massive portion of the human population, and the only reason they’re still alive is because they aren’t in the city.
To make sure they stay safe, Paul sets up some ground rules for his family. The first is that they go outside in pairs. The second is nobody goes out at night, and finally, there’s only one way in and out (an ominous red door) and Paul is the only one with the key. Travis is only 17 years old, and being forced to always be around one of his parents creates a claustrophobic environment for him. During the day he’s told exactly how to act, think and feel, but at night he’s free (which is good since he has dark and vivid nightmares that keep him up all night). Those nightmares are primarily where the intense practical imagery from the trailers shows up. This is an extremely grounded post-apocalyptic tale. There’s no zombies or monsters, there are just people and it made the film feel unique and refreshing which I appreciated.
A wrench gets thrown into the mix when Will (Christopher Abbott), his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) end up staying in the house with Paul and his family. It Comes at Night is a film about what happens when two fathers who will do literally anything to keep their family alive are facing the end of the world. There are some incredibly tense moments that are a direct result of mistrust between two families that want to trust each other but know they never can. At night, though when they let their guard down they make mistakes, and they suffer the consequences.
Shults does an incredible job managing tension in It Comes at Night, you’re always aware that at any moment anything can go wrong, even when things seem safe. And just like the characters in the film, you’re punished for letting your guard down with some truly frightening moments that come seemingly out of nowhere. Unfortunately though the only character you really get to know throughout the film is Paul despite the fact that it seems like it’s supposed to be a coming of age tale about Travis. While I like the surreal nightmare scenes, I would have gladly given up all but one of them for some more dialog from the mostly silent character. Additionally, Sarah and Kim barely get any screen time let alone time to speak, and again I found myself counting scenes that could have been taken out for the sake of more screen time on their behalf.
Like nearly every film put out by A24, It Comes at Night doesn’t skimp on the eye candy. Every shot from trailing Travis closely as he makes his way around the house at night, to the image of a fire being set as night falls a little too quickly is meticulously set up and I think the film benefits greatly from it. Additionally, while the film’s score is above average if not a little serviceable, the sounds of the world inside and outside Paul’s house add to the film’s tension in some really cool ways.
Finally, while I understand that the title is meant to mislead, but as a result of the missteps with nearly every character except for Paul and Will, the payoff Schults is presumably going for doesn’t have nearly as much impact as was probably intended. Fortunately, the film sticks to every rule it presents and because of this it never jumps the shark.
It Comes at Night Releases on June 9th. If you’d like to hear more about the film, check out my video review below.