Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son, but this will soon be put to test when a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.
It Comes At Night is a 2017 psychological horror film written and directed by Trey Edward Shults. It was a movie I’d heard little about going in, other than a trailer and the look of the poster. It was the title along with the poster (above) that particularly enticed me. What I got from the movie wasn’t what I expected.
This is a particular breed of horror film where the external forces surrounding the people contained within a situation, in this case and house and the surrounding property, don’t matter as much as the drama and tension building within the group itself. The outside world is afflicted by a highly infectious disease, as we learn at the onset of the film, and bringing in new people is a risk. Despite this, Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his family allow another couple and their young son to live with them, who seem trustworthy. Paul is ever vigilant, however, and stresses to his own son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) that you can only truly trust family.
Though it’s hard to pinpoint an exact protagonist, Travis is the strongest perspective we get in the film. He’s haunted by the recent passing of his grandfather, frequently suffering from nightmares, and as a result has trouble sleeping. Thanks to his insomnia he usually finds himself in the middle of nighttime developments, as he’s prone to responding to activity he notices. His performance was particularly noteworthy for me, as he’s visibly alienated and shaken by the isolation and loss that circumstances have put him through, and this is almost completely communicated visually, through context and his body language. This helps add to the suspense, as dissolving relations between the families is not so much a matter of if, but when and how. I didn’t believe dissolution would be his fault, but his behaviour had me suspecting he’d be more than a bystander to it.
The tension and pacing of the film is quite masterfully handled, giving the characters time to impress upon the audience before things start to come apart. It’s a film that raises questions about what the audience thinks they would to in such a situation as well, and it’s hard to really pinpoint where your sympathies should lie. Is there such a thing as too protective or too careful? What is the cost? When things get violent its horrifically abrupt, giving a raw depiction of human violence and desperation. Nothing is over the top and every gunshot matters.
Despite the film’s quality as a psychological horror, and a compelling depiction of human desperation, there is a bit of an elephant in the room for me. The title, trailer, and poster for this film are deceptive as to what this film is about. There is no literal “it” that comes at night, and since even friends and family have protested at me revealing this to them, I must stress that this is not a spoiler. At no point in the story are any of the characters worried about an unnatural force, entity, or being coming at night. There is threat of other human beings or animals, possibly carrying the unknown disease, but that is it. Hearing the title, watching the trailer, and/or simply glancing at the above poster of a dog looking alert into the dark unknown of the woods, its tether taut, will likely lead you to believe otherwise.
All that being said, I still think It Comes At Night is a great horror film, but it’s great in how it deals with internal forces among people, not anything external, which is unfortunately misleading. Despite it’s quality, this last detail did leave me disappointed. Still, I highly recommend watching it. The performances are great, the pacing and atmosphere are well structured, and the suspense is palpable. It really drives home the question of how important survival is at all costs, though the answer is left to you. I hope going in with a more realistic understanding of what it’s about makes it all the better.