It Comes at Night, 2017.
Directed by Trey Edward Shults.
Starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbot, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, and Kelvin Harrison Jr.
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.
There’s a specific type of terror that creates a yearning in the viewer for a hot shower or a corrosive bath following a watch. They’re the sort of films that inspire absolute fear born out of the horrors of humanity or hell as a place on Earth. Try giving The Road a re-watch, or Requiem for a Dream, it takes a very specific type of person (read as sadist). Naturally, these are few and far between within mainstream filmmaking; taking a backseat in place of machine-made, jump scares aplenty horror.
It Comes at Night, Trey Edward Shults sophomore feature, exists in that same plain of human vulgarity. It almost takes the biscuit in its frank disregard of how far one should go in traumatizing the audience. If The Road itself was traumatic, It Comes at Night is perverse in its frank one-upmanship.
Even the title exists to provoke. The titular “it,” of which Shults cares little to elaborate on, hinges wholly on viewer interpretations, and in the instance of this writer, it caused a pit in my stomach the size of a black hole I hoped to fall into. It’s a mildly diverting title for a film artful and delicate in its character study.
Yet the “it”, whatever it may be, hits early on, taking the life of Sarah’s (Carmen Ejogo) father. Her husband Paul (Joel Edgerton) and teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), clad in gasmasks, are tasked with burning the body, a ritualistic event they’ve clearly done on numerous occasions.
Returning home, windows covered in make shift wooden plains, doors double, triple, quadruple locked, they stew in their grief. Paul reminds them of the rules of existence; masks must be worn if outside and doors must always be locked. That rule is soon broken by unwarranted intruder Will (Christopher Abbott) who presumed the house to be empty and hoped to raid it for supplies for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their toddler son.
Following sustained interrogation, Paul agrees to bring Will and his family into the home. The rules are repeated and they gain momentary peace.
Performances are delicate and developed will a deft intelligence. Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott-so impressive in the shamefully overlooked James White-are both ever-welcome screen presences and the pair bring quiet pathos to an undercurrent of righteous anger, whilst Carmen Egojo, a pleasure to see her return to the screens, is well-rounded in a role often underwritten. Less so with Riley Keough in a role fairly unforgiving be it for a late detour that devastates.
In a cast of vastly experienced actors, it’s on newcomer Kelvin Harrison Jr. to impressive most. His yearning for adulthood is at once tragic at once naïve and a mid-film conversation with Keough is a relative, and much-needed respite which hinges wholly on his moving naivety.
Oh the terror. It’s the sort of terror that instilled audible gasps and muttered, “ah fucks” in the audience; it’s the rare terror that continues to creep up long after the credits crawl to a close. A shot of a door, or that of a baroque painting results in cold sweats, and as the film comes to an operatic, frankly horrifying end, the tension is thick enough to spread on toast.
It Comes At Night is uncompromising in its direful study of trauma. It is a descent into absolute hell and all the better for it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★