By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Writer/director Trey Edward Shults made a rather impressive feature film debut with the outstanding movie Krisha. The film won the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature at SXSW 2015, and after its release in 2016, ended up as one of my top six films of the year. Krisha may be a family meltdown drama, but Shults brings a nightmarish approach to it. The talented filmmaker now brings this sensibility to his new film It Comes at Night, a horror movie that offers much more psychological terror, rather than creature feature fright. With great writing and direction, and extraordinary performances by the minimal cast, It Comes at Night proves to be a gripping sophomore film for Shults and a worthy entry into the genre of horror.
Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) live in an isolated home in the woods while the outside world is in turmoil. A horrible, contagious disease has spread rapidly and the three family members remain hidden and mostly closed in their house for their own security. When a desperate man seeking help breaks into their home, Paul, Sarah and Travis take him prisoner until he explains that he is simply looking for food and supplies for his family. After establishing a reasonable amount of trust with the family and working out a deal, the man whose name is Will (Christopher Abbott) is allowed to bring his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their little son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to live in their home. Things progress somewhat smoothly as Will and his family adjust to the rules and routine established for everyone’s safety and protection. That is until another threatening development forces Paul, Sarah, and Travis to mistrust their guests, and this seed of suspicion blossoms in an ugly way.
Trey Edward Shults proves once again what a talented writer and director he is with It Comes at Night. Instead of making a cliche, straight forward cabin-in-the-woods fright fest, the filmmaker goes deep into the survivalist’s psyche and builds on that inner tension that can only snowball when trust disintegrates. Through his exceptional writing and superb direction, and with the help of some truly amazing performances, Shults creates this dark and bleak examination of fear and fear’s infection of humanity’s soul. Shults presents this survivalist nightmare with mesmerizing visuals thanks to the excellent cinematography by Drew Daniels, and these striking images and palpable tension gets enhanced by the incredible music by Brian McOmber.
As I stated above, the movie has a minimal cast, but these few wonderfully gifted actors deliver in such a big way that this movie has no need whatsoever for any more talent. As Paul and Sarah, Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo bring strength and determination, but with a very pained and fragile compassion. Their work here deserves much recognition and I hope that they are not forgotten when awards season arrives. Kelvin Harrison, Jr. brings the perfect amount of sweet innocence and naivete to his his role as Travis, a character with the most love in heart. Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough also perform tremendously well as Will and Kim, a young couple desperate for survival, but not as seasoned or savvy as their hosts.
With the excellent Krisha and now the powerful It Comes at Night in his resume, Trey Edward Shults has shown that he too is a bit more seasoned and savvy as a storyteller and filmmaker. Though not as brilliant as Krisha, Shults’s horror entry is still miles ahead of the typical movies in the genre. This is a film that not only surprised me (as it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting), it astonished me and really stayed with me for days. Shults is the real deal and I hope he continues to make films on his own terms, because he is simply ingenious.
As a bit of a postscript, I have to acknowledge the Alamo Drafthouse for hosting a special screening of this movie in the woods and allowing me to attend. Some critics and select Alamo Victory members (the Alamo Drafthouse rewards program) were bused to heavily forested park in Southeast Austin where the movie was perfectly presented in the dark, underneath the stars. Though this movie did not need any special enhancements to appreciate it, the outdoor setting still made for a creepy and fun experience. Should the Alamo Drafthouse ever host another screening of this film in the woods, I must highly recommend it.