Trey Edward Shultz / Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough / Horror / 2017 / 15 / 91mins
Horrors are tricky films to master. Either you’re cheap and overkill the jumpscares or you choose a symbolic, deeper trick of the mind. Artistry is hard to achieve, but It Comes At Night is the master of suspense that may have hit the target.
In a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a strange and deadly illness, Paul (Joel Edgerton), wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) eek out a life in their isolated home in the woods. An intruder called Will (Christopher Abbott) is held hostage before Paul deems him trustworthy and his partner Kim (Riley Keough) and toddler son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) soon move in. All seems well, till one night the red door to the house is left open and Travis’s infected dog returns.
The unknown is a pretty generic thing to quantify, but Shultz construes it into the deadliest foe. All the horror tropes are utilised: suspense, the unknown dark, the unseen danger lurking in Jarvis’s dreams. The shots used to manipulate the real world into Jarvis’s dream world is mesmerising. It’s a kaleidoscopic trip: a painting becomes a descent into hell, seemingly taunting the family photos opposite; the plague imagery of the red door; the related prophetic fire imagery. Absorb it all and suddenly you’re on the edge of your seat – what is out there??
It Comes At Night could rightly qualify as folk horror. Strangers inducing paranoia; human danger and viral contamination; the geography. Despite the sparseness of humanity, everything seems claustrophobic. But ultimately, the joy of a small cast for a horror film is the ability to pick sides. To root for the underdog. One wrong move and you’re baited to call for Victim A’s head. Tension is a wonderful thing.
Most importantly, a trait horrors often abandon, there’s reason and purpose to each action. Active decisions have a huge bearing on audiences – if a character acts unexpectedly we’re understandably puzzled. Each actor in It Comes At Night brings humanity, moral baggage in tow.
I cannot praise Shultz enough. This is horror with intricate, purposeful frames. It is art. And yet, when the film finished, a girl at the back of the audience shouted “Is that it?” At first I was annoyed – She’s ignorant, I thought – but then it dawned on me too. Maybe she was right? After all that trouble, and it’s over in the space of 10 minutes? Pfft.
This is a cult hit and it knows it. Word of mouth will see Shultz catapulted to indie-darling notoriety in no time. But there’s one problem. It Comes At Night soars high before being shot dead by a truly wasted ending. Shame, I genuinely liked it.
Film as a Film – 4 / Target Audience – 4 / General Audience – 2
It Comes At Night is in cinemas now
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