There has been an outbreak, an epidemic, that much is certain. Everything else is speculation.
Trey Edward Shults’s It Comes at Night boils down to what is essentially a tight-knit family drama enveloped in a mysterious and nightmarish dystopia. A family of three is living in a secluded location in the woods. Boarded windows and strict rules hint at a threat which somehow always feels to be closing in. Their hidden existence is abruptly interrupted by a man seeking help on behalf of his family. Choosing to help, Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his kin allow the strangers to live with them in their home under the obligation that they respect his imperative rules.
Themes of paranoia, trust and humanity are explored through the relationships between the two families. There is a clear urge from both sides to see the good in one another, but the way that the camera lingers on their reactions and facial expressions forces the viewer to question the authenticity of the emotions on display. Due to their extreme circumstances, the families must adapt and learn to confide in one another to remain human, morally, and also physically. The performances are superb, particularly Edgerton’s; his alertness and instinct to survive help plunge the viewer into a state of unwavering trepidation.
Much of the film takes place within the house, and still manages to remain visually striking in its excellent use of lighting. Scenes at night are often lit with lamps, really heightening the claustrophobic tension of following shots in which it is never easy to guess what may be lurking in the darkness. The most terrifying aspect of the film though, is the woodland that surrounds the house. Often shot to appear eternal and devouring, it feels deplorable that the crooked woodland location never reaches its full potential to situate more scenes of genuine horror, and sadly, the film never taps into the essence of truly nerve-shredding panic.
What it does achieve, is a maintained sense of dread. While the outside world is ambiguous and vague, the drama that unfolds as the relationships of the families becomes strained is commanding of absorption. This ambiguity never neutralises. Questions are shortly addressed, remaining unanswered.
Shults’s second feature film seems to recall the first act of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, and most recently, Robert Eggers’ The Witch. It Comes at Night is a film that is sure to spark argument and contemplation, but such conversations may be forgotten by the time you have gotten home.