It Comes at Night is a Film Best Seen in the Dark.
Director: Trey Edward Shults/2017
It Comes at Night is the latest film from Krisha director Trey Edward Shults, and only his second feature length film overall. Where Krisha was a slow-burn of recognizable family disfunction, It Comes at Night is a slow-burn terror-inducing look at fear, grief, and paranoia, and how it slowly destroys us. Fear of death can rob us all of the life we want to live now.
There has been a lot of buzz for this film coming out of various film festivals, and there is a lot of reason for this. Once again, Trey Edward Shults has compiled a cast that perfectly suits the aesthetic and vibe he is going for, just as he did in his debut film, Krisha. His sense of pacing and timing also feeds well into the points he is trying to make and what he is hoping to accomplish.
So addiction, grief, and loss feature prominently in both of Trey Edward Shults’ feature length films. With It Comes at Night, he has channeled that into a tension filled story, that though a slow burn at times, constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat as the darkness hovers on the periphery of every frame.
Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Loving) stars as Paul, a man who has just had to do the unthinkable to his father-in-law after he was struck with a terrible condition that is plaguing the world. A former history teacher, Joel has learned how to take on the role of a survivalist in this new world where the human population is being thinned out, and everyone is on their own. Paul shares a house with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo-Selma, Alien: Covenant) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.-Birth of a Nation). Travis is a teenager who is coming of age as his parents still seek to protect his innocence in a world where he has seen too much already.
Their family must follow a set of strict guidelines that they’ve established to keep themselves safe. They’ve boarded up all of the windows, and the only way into the house is through one red door that is locked in multiple ways. They never go out at night, and set routines are established for what they can do in the day. Despite these safeguards, Travis’ grandfather still got sick, and this has made Paul even more paranoid and controlling which begins to clash with Travis who is starting to want to spread his wings as a young adult.
When a stranger enters their home, Paul must evaluate his whole plan and decide if this man named Will (Christopher Abbott-Wiskey Tango Foxtrot, A Most Violent Year) is telling the truth about only wanting to look for help for his wife Kim (Riley Keough-American Honey, Mad Max: Fury Road) and young son. As this new family moves in, tensions are ratcheted up as Paul’s paranoia and rules don’t always appeal to his new house guests as they seek to live in a mutually beneficial arrangement in this new world, cramped into a single house. As if this tension wasn’t enough, Travis finds himself having nightmares and wrestling with his strange attraction to Kim, and the visions he is seeing about the terror they face outside the walls of the house.
Trey Edward Shults has discussed how It Comes at Night was written as a script following his father’s death from drug and alcohol abuse. The opening scene features a moment of Carmen Ejogo’s character Sarah, saying goodbye to her father in a speech that is nearly verbatim to the speech he had with his birth father on his deathbed. His first film, Krisha, was shot near my hometown of Houston, in his mother and step-father’s house, and starred his aunt as a woman who had battled addiction and had fallen off the wagon. So addiction, grief, and loss feature prominently in both of Trey Edward Shults’ feature length films. With It Comes at Night, he has channeled that into a tension filled story, that though a slow burn at times, constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat as the darkness hovers on the periphery of every frame.
Viewers will be divided by this film based solely on the final minutes of the film and the interpretations that one gives its ending. I for one found myself thinking about this film well after it had ended which means that this film will stay with you, and that is a good thing. It is important to remember that as you watch this film, you must constantly consider the themes that Trey Edward Shults has weaved throughout the film, and how that might inform what you see when the final frame fades to black. Still, many will find the ending to be something different than what they had first thought, and this may isolate several. For everyone else, this will be yet another example of why this is a filmmaker who matters. His time working with and for Terrance Malick has paid off, and he understands not rushing the story, and creating an intimate setting for the stories he is trying to tell. His visual style is quite different than Malick, however, but in a way that serves his story above all else.
It Comes at Night is a worthy time at the movies, especially when you see it at night, where the darkness is more ever-present in the experience. It will be a film that sticks with you, regardless of what you think about the story when the credits roll. Trey Edward Shults continues to be a director to watch, and with two strong films under his belt, all eyes will be on what comes next.