Film Review: ‘It Comes at Night’ Brings Refreshing Fear and Disturbing Intensity

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An eye for thrill-seeking cinema, director Trey Edward Shults redefines the term “heart palpitations” with his newest film “It Comes At Night.”  With an all-star cast that boasts incredible performances in particular, Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott, the film is constructed as one of the most disturbing and frightening experiences in years.

“It Comes at Night” tells the story of a family living in a remote area of the woods.  Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and his son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) fight everyday to survive as an unnamed, unnatural threat takes over the world.  When Paul encounters Will (Christopher Abbott) attempting to break into his home, he pleads his case for him and his family (played by Riley Keough and Griffin Robert Faulkner) to take refuge.  When Paul accepts, trust and the inner darkness start to take effect among the newly made “family.”

Shults’ attention to surrounding elements such as the woods, creeks of the house, and more add to the film’s eerie and dark nature.  This is in great part to the masterful camera work by Drew Daniels.  Daniels’ choices to frame characters and the world in a smooth palette of fear and intensity is one of the film’s greatest achievements.  Shults, who co-edits with Matthew Hannam, cuts the movie with a stunning vigor.  Seamlessly cutting from one disturbing scene to the next.

Joel Edgerton, who has been masterful in films like “Loving” and “Black Mass,” takes on one of his most fearless portrayals yet.  As Paul, he digs into the desperation and constant heightened level of security that pours from the screen in every choice his character makes.  An epicenter of tension and grit.  Christopher Abbott keeps the audience at the edge of their seats.  He walks the line between trust and deception effortlessly in one of his best performances yet.  An outstanding talent that needs and demands more opportunities.  He’s our next generation’s talent to embrace and keep an eye on.

The supporting cast is also top-notch as Carmen Ejogo displays anguish with an effortless ease and Riley Keough exudes appeal and devastation.  Newcomer Kelvin Harrison Jr., the film’s true lead, holds his bewilderment and torment intact as he shares the screen with an outstanding ensemble.  A terrific talent to behold.

The new wave of horror in cinemas has benefited immensely from the composers that take on the films decorative music.  That’s the case with Brian McOmber‘s furious and pulse-pounding score that keeps you at the edge constantly.

“It Comes at Night” is a grueling experience, showing images that will shatter you in parts.  Nothing is off-limits for Shults as he examines the deconstruction of our psyche in times of crisis.  What are we fully capable of when faced with danger?  How deep are we willing to go?  What are we willing to do?  These themes are reflected greatly in Shults’ script but where he seems to come up short is in the film’s ultimate finale.  Not because of the actions that are taken, but in what the events from earlier in the film amount to.  There is a sense of feeling “cheated” or “misled” when the credits roll.  ‘What did all of that mean?” is something that came up after the final cut.

“It Comes at Night” is one of the most vexing and discomforting experiences witnessed since “The Snowtown Murders.”  There’s never a high point for the viewer to take a break from the film’s dyer nature.  Even when it seems “good,” you’re on edge as suspicion and fear quickly take over.  A daunting but necessary watch for the 2017 film year.

“It Comes at Night” is currently in theaters and is distributed by A24.

GRADE: (★★★½)

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  • Becivil

    I was very disappointed in how this film played out. The fact the reviewer anticipates the “cheated” feelings of the audience when the credits come up says a lot about the flaws of the movie. Because we’ve all had that experience – watching a movie and about 10 minutes before it’s end, you start thinking, “This better not end this way!”

    I think a lot of the more subtle aspects of the plot are going to be missed by the average viewer – including the idea that they never actually reveal if the young child was infected, or that it is really the adult son who puts everyone in jeopardy.

    And why even bother to make this a horror movie? At least 20 minutes of the movie is dedicated to the older teen’s nightmares. This is actually the only element that is based in the horror genre in the traditional sense. None of those elements propel the plot or add anything to the movie. So why have them? It might have been better to develop the son’s character more fully instead of multiple scenes of him walking with a lantern to the attic. This could have been a straight mortality/morality drama. There was no reason to have the useless nightmare segments and the employ a constant “music as horror” technique. It’s a mixed bag. Sure, the themes of the movie are about how mistrust and paranoia can lead to the most horrible things of all – and questions how dehumanized is one willing to be to protect themselves or their family. But the INTENTIONS of the director aren’t very evident thru the storytelling.

    There is a misuse of a word in the review. The word is Dire – “The film’s dire nature,” not dyer as used in the review. A dyer is someone who dyes things like a shirt, red.

  • Joey Magidson

    I’m much more lukewarm on this one, but I’d still give it a mild recommendation.