It Comes at Night
Updated: Jul 9, 2021
What is a horror movie? This question could elicit a different answer depending on who you ask. To me, a horror movie is a film that frightens its audience as a way of entertaining them. It is a genre that preys on our darkest fears. However, those fears differ depending on the person. One person’s horror film is another’s boring waste of time.
This brings me to It Comes at Night (eighty-eight minutes long before the end credits), a suspenseful film about two families attempting to coexist in the same house, while outside a deadly sickness turns the world to chaos.
The trailers (and perhaps the title) could lead potential viewers to suspect that there is something horrible trying to make its way inside the house. This is not that kind of movie. If your definition of horror involves blood and gore, brutal murders and jump scares, you may find this film to be a boring waste of time. If your definition of horror includes grief, guilt and the inability to protect your family from the terrors of the unknown, you may find this film terrifying.
Paul and Sarah (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo) are hiding from the rest of the world in an isolated house in the woods with their seventeen year old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr). One day, a man named Will (Christopher Abbott) shows up and, after an intense confrontation, is invited in along with his wife (Riley Keough) and young son (Griffin Robert Faulkner). The nature of the sickness is left vague, but that adds to the suspense since the characters don’t know what’s going on either. They are scared without knowing what they are scared of which just makes them more desperate.
The opening minutes establish that Paul and Sarah will go to any lengths to protect their family, so it is unlikely their cohabitation with Paul’s family will have a happy ending.
It Comes at Night is a very intense and unsettling film, yet there is very violence. The threat is internal and it is always there. The danger is the very human desire to protect those you love at all costs and, in this case, that cost is very high. To me, this scenario is scarier than a masked killer slaughtering a group of people because the motivations are so relatable. The situation is also low-key enough to be plausible.
I am not sure if It Comes at Night is a horror film. It is certainly suspenseful and disturbing. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults uses the quiet of the nearby woods and emotional performances from his cast (including a very good Joel Edgerton) to bring the film a quiet dread.
I was a little disappointed by the last few minutes. There’s a devastating incident that is followed by another loss and then a moment of quiet irony. This is all effective, but I didn’t get a sense for where it leaves the survivors. I would have liked another scene to really get across the hopelessness they have brought upon themselves.
Whether horror or not, It Comes at Night is a very good film that is all the scarier for exploring universal themes. I recommend it, but be warned: if this does not fit your definition of horror you may be bored. And if it does it may not be a comfortable experience.
3¾ out of 5
Joel Edgerton as Paul
Christopher Abbott as Will
Carmen Ejogo as Sarah
Riley Keough as Kim
Kelvin Harrison Jr as Travis
Griffin Robert Faulkner as Andrew
Written and Directed by Trey Edward Shults