it comes at night review

[It Comes At Night premiered as a secret screening at the Overlook Film Festival this weekend. The film came right from the edit bay, and while it’s not final, (they’re still working on a few effects, and it contained no credits) the picture is locked.]

It Comes At Night is either a survivalist’s greatest dream or biggest nightmare. It touches on something that many people have hidden away in the dark recesses of their minds, a plan for when civilization collapses and you have to fend for yourself. It usually involves a secluded location deep in the woods, and with more than a couple of guns.

That’s the case for young Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), who lives in a secured and heavily armed home with his parents (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo.) Society might be gone for all they know, because they’ve been living far out in the woods for quite a while, surviving day-to-day.

Most of them, at least. We meet them as Travis’ grandfather is dying from some sort of plague, one that’s swept the nearest city, if not the entire world. The old man has boils all over his skinny, nearly naked body, and his breathing comes in raspy breaths. His eyes are clouded over, inky-looking, and his family members stand around him in gas masks and gloves.

“It’s ok, dad,” the mom weeps. “You can let go.”

The dad and his son place the dying man in a wheelbarrow, and walk out the door with a rifle and a can of gasoline.

Things don’t go well for him.

The remaining trio goes on living day-by-day, even more broken by these events, eating their rationed meals and keeping safe in their home. It’s a monotonous life until one terrifying night (hint for parents – it’s NEVER OK to wake up your kids with the words “Something is in the house.”) where a few events lead them into meeting another family, a young couple (Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough) with a child. After taking an excess of precaution they are allowed into the home, and the dynamic of the family shifts as the six all try to learn to live together.

There haven’t been any films quite as tense and gripping as It Comes At Night at the Overlook Film Festival. While there are indeed things lurking out there in the woods and the constant threat of infection, the horror in this film is wholly relatable. It’s the threat of people pushed to the edge, and what they do when they’re tired and frightened and only thinking of themselves. Egerton is giving off a real Kurt Russell vibe with his bearded and quietly dangerous character here, fitting because like The Thing, this is another story about not knowing who to trust.

But It Comes At Night is such a personal story, so encapsulated. It’s a tiny tale about one family being torn apart, more by their own actions than anything else. It’s claustrophobic and full of pure dread, a film where no one feels safe and things can get worse at any moment.

The major standout in the cast is young Kelvin Harrison, Jr., whose character is the heart of the film. Travis can’t sleep at night and spends time wandering through the cavernous attic, listening to what’s going on in the rooms downstairs. Thrust into this terrifying situation at 17 years old, he’s confused and scared in all the ways a normal teenage boy is. But this poor kid is raging with hormones and unable to rebel or act on any of his urges. He sees his parents acting in the interests of their own family and no one else, ostensibly to keep him safe but full of paranoia and brimming violence. So he wanders at night.

Travis’ nightmare sequences provide the easy scares for the film. They’re all shot in a different aspect ratio, lending an otherworldly feel to them. This ensures that while we’re not fooled into thinking they’re real, they still mess with us, and provide insight into his deepest fears. What’s worse, many times he brings them into the real world. He’ll see his grandfather in front of him with black eyes, vomiting black blood, and wake up still seeing it for a few seconds the way you do when you’re startled awake.

If nightmares aren’t enough to scare us, there’s also the woods. Oh, the woods. Nearly the whole film has been lit with practical lighting, just lanterns and guns mounted with flashlights. Hopefully you enjoy peering into the darkness at the edges of your vision and hoping against hope that you don’t actually see anything, because you’ll be doing that a lot.

There’s also the red door. Prominently featured in the poster and in the film itself, it acts as a portal to another world. It’s the only way in or out of the otherwise boarded-up house, a choke point that the family uses to ward against any possible intruders. More than once the narrow hallway in front of it makes the setting for an incredibly tense, confusing scene of horror.

But while there are moments of intense excitement, don’t go into this expecting monsters or jump scares. This is horror in the vein of The Witch, a slow burn, a descent into madness that you know is coming yet still hope that they can prevent.

They can’t…because they’re only human.

It Comes At Night has solidified director Trey Edward Shults as a major genre figure, and given A24 another masterpiece to tout. It’s as self-assured and personal a piece of horror as you’ve seen in a long time, and the kind of exciting film you attend film festivals to see in the first place.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

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