Moody 'It Comes At Night' strains the barriers between horror and human drama
Posted June 11
“IT COMES AT NIGHT” — 3 stars — Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr.; R (disturbing images and language); in general release
Near the beginning of “It Comes at Night,” the teenage protagonist has a dream. It is the first of many dreams he will have, and like the others, it is set in the remote and expansive cabin he’s living in with his family. He’s making his way through the winding passageways of the darkened cabin, and after heading down a long hallway, finds himself in front of a blood red door bolted shut on his side.
Decades of horror movie tropes would suggest that this door is located in the cabin’s basement and leads to some unspeakable terror. In reality, the red door is the only entrance to the cabin. It leads outside to the woods.
This is just one way that director Trey Edward Shults plays with horror tradition in “It Comes at Night.” In fact, by the closing credits, it’s hard to call “It Comes at Night” a horror movie. It feels more like a dark drama, colored with flashes of horror and science fiction.
The aforementioned protagonist is Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a 17-year-old boy living in the cabin with his father, Paul (Joel Edgerton), and mother, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo). They are hiding out from a civilization that has been overwhelmed by a mysterious sickness. Travis’ grandfather Bud (David Pendleton) was also with them until he contracted the illness, and the harsh opening scene of the film makes it quite clear what happens to victims of the epidemic.
Travis is having regular nightmares, all centered on his fear of the disease he knows is waiting for him. This just enhances an already isolated and peculiar nature which leads him regularly into the attic where he can listen in on other conversations throughout the cabin.
The “cabin” feels like more of a wooded estate, sprawling through endless corridors and nooks and crannies, bereft of electricity and light even during the day since Paul has boarded up all the windows. The only way in or out of the sterilized wooded fortress is through the red door.
Shults sets an early claustrophobic tone, but the plot doesn’t get going until a visitor arrives one night. Will (Christopher Abbott) has a wife and small child, and when Paul hesitantly welcomes them into the home, the film’s conflict and tension take on a new dimension.
Paul’s distrust of Will is just one factor. Travis’ nightmares now begin to include his new roommates, and his feelings become more complicated as he becomes more and more attracted to Will’s young wife, Kim (Riley Keough). What begins as a film about outside threats quickly turns inward.
“It Comes at Night” is a total success, building dread gradually and avoiding an overreliance on the kind of jump scares lesser films mine to absurdity. It makes “It Comes at Night” less fun, but more resonant. Brian McOmber’s soundtrack, alternating between sweeping atmospheres and rhythmic rumbles, complements the dark and haunting cinematography, which is often lit with nothing but candlelight.
Harrison Jr. is effective in a role that combines a natural teenage awkwardness with the terror of his circumstances, and Paul becomes the emotional focal point as a father whose means of protecting his family are not always justifiable. Abbott and Keough both manage to portray their characters naturally without making their motives completely obvious.
As the movie goes on, it gets more and more difficult to differentiate Travis’ dreams from his reality, right up to the film’s somewhat ambiguous ending. What isn’t ambiguous are a few key events of the third act, which, while logically consistent, still leave the audience with a terrible emptiness. Horror movies don’t have to have happy endings, and, as mentioned before, this isn’t necessarily a horror movie. But sometimes the horrors of humanity are just as draining.
“It Comes at Night” is rated R for violence, disturbing images and language; running time: 97 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on <a href='https://www.youtube.com/moviereviewsbyjosh' target='_blank'>YouTube</a>.