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.
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.