One of the very few issues with Trey Edwards Shults’ It Comes at Night is the title. Giving off the impression this nuanced character drama is an archetypal horror flick, instead the talented filmmaker subverts expectations, transcending the tropes of the genre at hand to make for a compelling, candid exploration of the human condition – and the results aren’t pretty.
There’s an illness out there and it’s spreading. Taking away the life of Sarah’s (Carmen Ejogo) father, she returns to the desolate, isolated home with her son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and partner Paul (Joel Edgerton). They ration food and drink, they have to wear protective masks outside, and most importantly of all, their doors remains locked – as no other human being can be trusted at the risk of catching this killer virus. Until their door is knocked down by Will (Christopher Abbott) as he strives to find resources for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son. Initially Paul is apprehensive of their new visitor, wanting to kill him and return to their safe life of solitude, but when Will speaks sincerely of his predicament, they decide to offer shelter – though Paul cares only about protecting his family, and is unwilling to completely trust the family seeking refuge at their abode.
Allowing the viewer little to no context at all, we have no idea what state the world is in outside of this family’s property. There are no contrived faux-news reports, little to no other characters at all – instead we focus purely on this one scenario, and this small, contained group of characters – and the film benefits from this simplistic approach. It allows the focus to remain on humanity, and in turn becomes a film we can resonate with, in spite of the surrealist tendencies.
It Comes at Night is a masterclass in suspense building, it’s a film all about the notion of trust, and is so intense, and uncompromising with it. Each and every character is paranoid, and it almost takes on the form of a poker game – studying the nuances to each person’s demeanour, vying to figure out who can be trusted, and who can’t.
When a film is so heavily steeped in humanity and focuses so greatly on the characters, to fully come to life and triumph as a piece of cinema it requires strong performances, and it’s here the film comes into its element. The accomplished duo of Edgerton and Ejogo are magnificent, while Abbott – the eponymous star of the incredible drama James White – continues to display his impressive credentials as an actor.
But the true star of the show is Harrison Jr. in what is a truly remarkable performance, so subtle, so magnetic and emotive. This film, in spite of its brilliance, could struggle to make waves to a mainstream crowd, and yet at the very least it should well mark the start of two rather promising careers, for both the aforementioned young actor, and for Shults too.
It Comes at Night is released on July 7th.