An old man (David Pendleton) suffering a horrifically evident disease is tended to in a small room encased in plastic by three people wearing gas masks. 'I love you dad,' says Sarah (Carmen Ejogo, "Alien: Covenant"), before her husband Paul (Joel Edgerton) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr., "The Birth of a Nation") shift him into a wheelbarrow and take him into the woods. Voicing sorrow and regret, Paul covers his face with a pillow and shoots him, rolling Bud into a trench before setting his body ablaze. Travis is shattered by his grandfather's death, drawing Bud's dog Stanley (Mikey) close for comfort, but the family will be further traumatized when a stranger mistakes their boarded up home as abandoned, breaking in when they know "It Comes at Night."
Writer/director Trey Edward Shults burst onto the scene with the brilliant "Krisha," filmed utilizing relatives and his parents' home. With his second film, he has put a modern, post-apocalyptic spin on the 1961 Twilight Zone episode 'The Shelter,' which delved into the psychology of fear as one man guards entry to his bomb shelter from his neighbors. Shults' film, though, is far more unnerving, its twist more ironic and devastating.
The family of three live in a rambling, rural brown wooden home, its walls covered in family photographs (Travis's room notably sports a hellish Hieronymus Bosch print). A long, dark narrow corridor leads to that plastic sheeted room, a mud room serving as a type of air lock to the outside. Paul keeps the door into and out of it locked at night, one of his fiercely upheld rules. Travis, whose nightmares spur insomnia, is prone to wandering downstairs with a lantern in the wee hours. This night, he hears noises coming from behind the red door and quickly awakens his parents. Armed, they open the door to face an armed intruder. Paul quickly knocks the man out, takes him outside, binds him to a tree, gags him and places a hood over his head.
The next day, Paul ventures out to question the man, offering him water for honest answers. Will (Christopher Abbott, "James White") tells him he's been walking through the woods, having left his wife and child looking for water. He can offer no information about 'what's going on out there,' having seen no one during his travels. Will assures his captor that he's a good man, that he understands Paul was only trying to protect his family just as he himself is. After conferring with Sarah, Paul agrees to take Will to fetch his wife, child (the adorable Griffin Robert Faulkner), two goats and chickens to live together in the fortified home, a united front against the unknown.
The film is primarily told from 17 year-old Travis's point of view. He likes the new family, but is also attracted to Will's pretty wife, Kim (Riley Keough, "American Honey"). He listens to the couple from an attic crawlspace, smiling at their loving banter. But his nightmares are increasingly disturbing (in one Kim slips into his room, climbs on top of him, blood gushing out of her mouth into his) and his father's brutality in protecting his family troubles him. One day, when the men are out (Paul forbids anyone to go outside alone), Stanley begins barking. The men see nothing, but Stanley becomes increasingly agitated, biting Paul and dashing off into the woods. Travis insists on going after the dog, but his father harshly reprimands him, saying Stanley will find his way home.
Travis's psychology is the crux of Shults' film, the title perhaps referring to his nightmares, all preceded with a fade-to-black. The filmmaker keeps us guessing about this new family's intentions, Paul catching Will in an apparent lie, a roadside ambush casting doubt. When the red door is found unlocked, suspicions mount. Shults demonstrates how fear can cloud judgement, the simplest answer never considered. His ensemble cast tread cautiously in his emotional minefield, Edgerton's tough macho stance in clear contrast to Abbott's softer approach, Harrison Jr. the perfect vessel for adolescent angst, the heart and mind standing in their crosshairs.
As in "Krisha," the filmmaker uses his setting not only for well defined spatial geography, but to suggest psychological states (production design by Karen Murphy). "Krisha" cinematographer Drew Daniels follows paths encroached by darkness at night, forest by day, fires of purification reflected in Travis's gas mask. Brian McOmber’s score utilizes violins to accentuate dread and isolation, percussion for tense propulsion.
"It Comes at Night" leaves us much like the Coens' "No Country For Old Men," its survivors left not contemplating the evils of the world but their own culpability.
Robin did not see this film.
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