It Comes at Night review
The tone is set with the apocalyptically grim post-apocalyptic opening, as an old man, ravaged by an unknown and deadly contagion, is mercilessly dealt with by the remaining members of his family. These are Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr). They live in total isolation in a fortified house deep in the woods.
Writer-director Trey Edward Shults drops us into the middle of this world without any context or backstory. All we can glean is that society recently collapsed, and what’s left of the world is now a scary and paranoid place. The dread he creates from this scenario is palpable. With every shot of the trees, every frame of darkness, your eyes will be straining to see what’s out there. Tiny movements. Faces. Figures in the trees.
Feeding off this paranoia is Paul (an exceptional Joel Edgerton), a man in ultra survival mode, who will do anything to protect his family. The only way to survive in this world is to follow his rules. Stick to the routines.
These rules are put to the test when Will (Christopher Abbott) tries to break in to the house in the middle of the night. He claims to have a wife and son of his own, and they are just looking for shelter. With his claims appearing to be true, Paul invites this young family to stay with them. The initial unease and mistrust soon turns into cosy domesticity, as the two families bond and work together to protect themselves from the outside world. But is the real threat already inside?
It Comes At Night isn’t going to give you the visceral thrills of the latest Conjuring or Annabelle films. This is an entirely different beast, but just as effective. Shults builds the tension slowly, letting the icy fingers of paranoia creep up your spine. The atonal drone of the soundtrack, the way the camera moves around the strange geography of the house – it’s all paced and designed perfectly to set you on edge.
It’s a genuinely classy piece of work, and a magnificent example of quiet, claustrophobic terror, where every gesture, every glance, and every word is amplified in its significance. Utterly engrossing, genuinely unnerving, and when it chooses to be it is properly terrifying. If there’s a more atmospheric horror movie this year, please let me know.