It Comes At Night is something of a surprise. You’re not sure what to expect, reviews are vague, and trailers are sparse if not downright misleading. You just know there’s a door, a guy with a key and a shotgun, and it’s super dark.
Which makes the next 97 minutes unsettling and worth the ride.
Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his family, Sara and Travis (Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr.), live out in the woods, isolated from a sickness that is bringing down humanity. There is no electricity, no phones, no communication. Paul is thrifty and stoic and committed to keeping what’s left of his family alive. The specific sickness is an unknown in this cinematic universe, but it’s fast and deadly, and it’s already claimed one family member. Travis isn’t taking it particularly well, but he is given time to grieve. After a difficult introduction, Paul takes in a new family, folding in their water and livestock and companionship, but what’s the price of a budding community? Trust? Loyalty? The truth? It doesn’t matter what anyone did in the Before Time, because what matters is this moment, and history only exists as spoken in the malleable tongue of Right Now.
There is no real sense of a passage of time in this film. Chores and activities blur together, staccato scenes of conversations and confrontations. There’s something in the woods, there’s something in the house, there’s that Red Door (and I have a theory but won’t share it here). When you have no place to be but locked up and nothing to do but survive, it all runs together.
Or maybe it doesn’t.
This is the reality of post-apocalypse Anywhere. Whether the bomb, rebel insurgence, or the soft creeping death of a silent plague, paranoia is rightfully the law of the land. No one trusts anyone, and we’re all going to die. We are the monsters, acting out of fear and greed and good old fashioned – what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is eff you. This is the end of the world, and in this new reality, civility is a mask.
Writer/director Trey Edward Shults removes the specter of zombies and religion and vampires and brings back the fear of the dark and unknown. This is a horror movie stripped down to its foundation – isolation, compressed time (pay attention), and the lingering dread that nothing will ever be right again. You absolutely want to know what happens to these people and where they come from and what their game is. You may ask yourself why you’re wondering what the angle is and who’s playing the game, when everyone needs everyone to get by?
Because in this game of survival, you’re only a move ahead of Death, and Death plays the game much better.
It Comes At Night is rated R for language, Grandpa, Paul shooting people, and whatever lurks just beyond the flashlight’s edge.