It Comes At Night

Published on July 7th, 2017

It Comes At Night

Directed by Trey Edward Shults

Starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Trey Edward Shults delivered one of the most impressive directorial debuts in many a year when he unleashed Krisha on the film festival circuit last year. Perhaps not grand enough for feature film success, it sat neatly on the programme as one of those absorbing films that cinephiles long for. It told the story of a woman recovering from an addiction battle or a nervous breakdown (it was irrelevant thanks to a bracing performance by Krisha Fairchild) who returns home to her extended family for Thanksgiving. It was edgy and the shut-in sensation was so perfectly pitched that Krisha grew into a psychological thriller where the monster prowled in plain sight and waiting for it to show its fangs charged up the film’s intensity. Now we have It Comes At Night. At a certain level, it’s a similar tale but if all you know of it is the trailer (fast cut edits and an ominous looking red door being pounded on) you’ll likely exit the cinema feeling cheated. Starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, and Carmen Ejogo, Shults plants us squarely in a world nearing its end.

It begins with a death. Shults wants us to imagine and hopefully build our own fears as to how the corpse came to be so ravaged (and he’ll be damned if he explains any of it). The old man is in a near comatose state and covered with dark boils, and with a heavy heart the man’s son in-law Paul (Edgerton) and his grandson Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) dispose of him in the forest that surrounds their home. Their method is one of startling finality. Has there been a toxic outbreak? Did bombs drop? An airborne virus perhaps? Whatever has bought them to this, Paul cremates him but, the cause is less a concern than the effects, those of desperation, fear, and intense paranoia.  Paul, his wife Sarah (Ejogo) and their son often move about in gas masks and lead disciplined lives, ever watchful, ever prepared. Then one night a man called Will (Abbott), breaks into their home. After interrogating him, Paul agrees to grant him, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), refuge.

The critics are all over this one, praising “the craftsmanship”, the “slow-burning suspense”, the “unbearable tension”, and “the sparse storytelling”. Is it because Krisha was a festival darling? Shults certainly has a feel for the material and every frame demonstrates his flair for visual storytelling. He knows how to wrap us up. The cinematography by Drew Daniels is sumptuous. The wind whistling through the trees, the towering shots as Paul commences his roadtrip with Will, even the cremation scene (the film’s most striking moment). It is an exceptionally handsome film but it is ultimately in service of very little. Your tolerance and taste for psychological drama, and finally that is all this is, will inform your enjoyment. Ignore the trailer and all its ominous implications. It Comes At Night often recalls 10 Cloverfield Lane but at least in that treacherous bunker, we had the joy of the unknown. There, the escalating sense of paranoia did indeed create unbearable tension. In films like this, a defining moment that at least hints at a resolution, if not at least a spellbinding final shot, is paramount. The Witch and It Follows certainly granted us that. Shults clearly thinks he’s above it.