Trey Edward Shults’ first film, “Krisha,” was such a dazzling debut in 2015 that it had to be wondered if the writer/director from Houston had squandered all of his talents in one blow.
But Shults is no one-trick pony and he proves it with “It Comes at Night,” a tense exercise in foreboding and paranoia that defies horror-film expectations at every turn. In fact, anyone going in looking for simple jump-scares and/or monsters, zombies, vampires or buckets of slasher gore should just stay home and watch old episodes of “The Walking Dead” instead because they’re bound to be disappointed.
Despite its title, “It Comes at Night” is as much about who is already in the house with you as it is about dangers lurking outside the front door.
Set in a world where some unknown catastrophe has befallen mankind, “It Comes at Night” takes place deep in the woods, where former teacher Paul (Joel Edgerton) lives in survivalist isolation with his wife, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), their teenage nightmare-plagued son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and family dog, Stanley.
They just had to dispose of the body of Sarah’s father, who came down with whatever sickness that seems to have taken out much of the planet. As far as they know, they are the only ones left and who knows who might become ill next.
So when Will (Christopher Abbott) is caught breaking into their house, claiming he didn’t know it was occupied, their first impulse is to kill him and ask questions later. But he convinces them to not only let him live but accommodate his wife, Kim (Riley Keough), and young son (Griffin Robert Faulkner) as well.
That’s when things get complicated and the audience is left to wrestle with who’s good, who’s bad, and whether any of that really matters anymore in a world gone to seed.
As in “Krisha,” the most fraught and dangerous relationships are those of family and those who purport to be friends. For all of their flesh-eating ferocity, zombies won’t lie to you – or to themselves – or play games. Only the living do that.
Also as with “Krisha,” Shults revels in a discomfiting claustrophobia that slowly shrouds you like cling wrap. The music from Brian McOmber, who helped make “Krisha” so uncomfortable, underscores this sensation.
While “It Comes at Night” bears similarities to such recent films as “10 Cloverfield Lane” and the little-seen post-apocalyptic drama “Z for Zachariah” – all are about strangers in close quarters after the social fabric has been ripped to shreds – “Night” lacks the fantastical elements of the former and is more tensely terrifying than the latter.
If Shults continues at this rate, he will be able to take his place beside the most notable directors to have come out of Texas – Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Terrence Malick, Robert Rodriguez, Jeff Nichols – as someone with a distinctive style and vision.
Can’t wait for movie No. 3.
It Comes at Night
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough, Carmen Ejogo
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Length: 97 minutes
Rating: R (violence, disturbing images, strong language)
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