The devil is in the details of the new horror movie It Comes at Night, a $5 million production that opened in wide release yesterday. The plot’s rough sketch will sound familiar to those closest to the genre, especially the turns it’s taken in recent years: A family that’s holed up in the middle of nowhere fights for survival during what seems to be an outbreak of some sort of disease that has seemed to cast apocalypse on the world. The movie isn’t averse to tropes, but it is terse when it comes to explanation (right down to the vague “it” of the title).
I have learned over the years, that with this genre of film, which I hold near and dear to my heart, I must tread lightly. I am delighted to report to the rest of my avid horror fans, and non horror fans alike for that matter, you will not be disappointed. Performances from each actor is superb. Cinematographer, Drew Daniels, creates captivating visuals with in-scene light sources throughout. From the dim illumination of a lantern to the harsh glare of a flashlight on the end of a gun.
What separates It Comes at Night from typical zombie stories and other post-apocalyptic fare is its deep investment in the psychological manifestations of such a horrific scenario, which director Trey Edward Shults renders vividly, even when he’s reveling in ambiguity. The movie disorients not just via the palpable paranoia from Paul (Joel Edgerton), a patriarch whose overprotective tendencies are well-intentioned but flawed, but also by weaving in and out of the nightmares of Paul’s son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). It Comes at Night is not just scary, it’s deliriously so. In refusing to hit his audience over the head and having faith in its intelligence, Shults has made a movie that works as the perfect counterpoint to the very dumb, other horror-ish movie it shared a release date with, The Mummy.
Most of all, It Comes at Night is a film in which the true elements of fear come from within, not from outside. Sure, it’s not exactly a new concept—George A. Romero, John Carpenter and Stanley Kubrick have created the cinematic templates—but it’s remarkable to consider how much horror mileage that Shults gets out of a film with no traditional villains.