If you were judging solely by the marketing, then you’d be forgiving for believing that It Comes At Night was a pretty straight forward horror film. The type with plenty of jump scares for groups of teenagers to scream at in delight. Sadly, for them, we can only imagine a few of those groups have gone home unhappy.
For It Comes At Night is a subtle piece of work. It’s focused on tension and paranoia, and while there might be a few things going bump in the night, they seem to be part of the feverish imagination of Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) as he walks the halls of his house with only a lantern for light.
It’s also a film that relishes keeping things hidden from you. It’s set either in the near future or in an alternate reality, and the world has fallen afoul to some sort of plague. What caused it or how extensive the damage is we don’t know. All we see is Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and Travis surviving in their house in the woods, constantly on guard for an attack from other survivors.
Into that world, Will (Christopher Abbot) and Kim (Riley Keogh) are added alongside their young son. Originally, Will is discovered trying to break into the house, but after tying him to a tree, they discover he and his family have food while Paul and his have water. They decide to live together but that decision is a lot easier to make than trust is to form.
It’s a dynamic that allows Joel Edgerton to shine. He’s been on an impressive run of films recently, and he seems to be at his best when the tension is at its highest. You believe that there is a simmering anger lurking beneath the surface and that he will do anything to protect his family. Paul has adapted to this world, and he isn’t going to give up without a fight.
Less adept at this situation is Travis. Only seventeen he struggles to sleep at night, haunted by the decisions his family has had to make. As he prowls the house, we don’t know what’s real and what is a product of his sleep deprived mind. Director Trey Edward Shults has the screen contract, tightening the ratio and it brings with it a tightening of the audience lungs as they cling to the seat, desperate for the sun to come up.
It’s a touch which perhaps sums up this film’s strengths. It’s slow, and at times little is happening, but Shults is willing to wait. It’s a masterclass of design from the boarded up house with its long corridor that leads to the locked door and the potential horrors outside to the woods that surround it, filled with all kinds of invisible dangers. It may not be full of things going bump in the night, but like anyone living in the woods and on edge, you’ll soon begin to believe they are out there anyway.
Verdict: Hall Of Fame