Secure within a remote desolate home in the woods as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, the tenuous domestic order that Paul (Joel Edgerton of “Loving” and “Midnight Special”) has established with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo of “Selma”) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr. of “Birth of a Nation”) is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate young family seeking refuge in “It Comes At Night.”
“The movie is about the unknown and the fear of the unknown. Death is the ultimate unknown.” So says Writer/Director Trey Shults of his impressive new thriller “It Comes At Night,” which opens wide on June 9th. The minimalist story is not a typical genre thriller, according to Shults, but, as he said (quoting Mies Van der Rohe), “Less is more.” The basic story is about a family trying to survive in a cabin in the woods while some sort of virus ravages an apocalyptic land. “Imagine the end of the world— Now imagine something worse,” says the A24 press handout.
The second man who brings his family to the remote cabin seeking haven and the necessities of life is headed by Will. Will is played by Christopher Abbott, who was excellent in “James White,” where he portrayed a young man nursing his dying mother (Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the City” and “A Quiet Passion”) through terminal cancer. Will’s wife, Kim, is played by Riley Keough (Elvis’ granddaughter, “American Honey”) and his small son Andrew is played by Griffin Robert Faulkner.
Despite the best intentions of both families portrayed in the film, paranoia and mistrust boil over as the horrors outside creep ever-closer, awakening something hidden and monstrous within Paul as he learns that the protection of his family comes at the cost of his soul.
There is also, as the film opens, the harrowing death of Travis’ grandfather, Bud, played by David Pendleton. One of the unusual things that happens to someone dying of the mysterious contagious disease is that the victims’ eyes fill up completely with pupil; no “whites of their eyes” as they are decimated when death draws near.
Shults said, during a Q&A following the film’s showing in Chicago on June 1st, that he was fascinated with questions about topics like genocide. He is definitely focused on death and man’s mortality in this film, which is not about zombies or monsters, but is every bit as horrific as he examines the lengths people will go to to protect their own and to survive.
Since the original impetus for Shults’ film came from helping his own father through terminal pancreatic cancer, the mood of the film is grim, grimmer, grimmest. Shults has said that, following his father’s death (they had been estranged for 7 years prior), he sat down and wrote and “It just came spewing out of me.” He’s certainly in good company in musing on the temporary nature of our existence on this planet. Woody Allen has examined the topic in any number of comedies and Ridley Scott just trotted out another “Alien” film (“Alien: Covenant”) which has some thoughts on the same eternal question.
But Shults has made death as scary as anything you’ll see this summer, and perhaps as scary as anything you’ll ever see in any season on the universal topic of man’s mortality. What lengths will a man go to to “save” and protect his family? What would happen if we were facing an unbeatable disease with no modern medicines or hospitals to help us? Many in the world are facing these questions right now, in real time, but Shults is still struggling with the deaths of two close family members (his father and his cousin), with memories which clearly haunt him to this day.
Award-winning filmmaker Trey Edward Shults (John Cassavetes Award, 2016; Independent Spirit Breakthrough Directors Award (2016); Gotham Award (2016)) follows his incredible debut feature KRISHA,(which starred family members and debuted at SXSW in 2015), with IT COMES AT NIGHT, a horror film following a man (Joel Edgerton) as he learns that the evil stalking his family home may be only a prelude to horrors that come from within.
The uncomfortable subject matter of “It Comes At Night”, says Shults, is “drawing from heavy personal experiences and placing it into a fictional narrative, hoping the same emotions come through. At its heart, this is a movie about mortality.”
The script for “It Comes At Night” was actually written before “Krisha.” When “Krisha” was a big hit at SXSW, Shults got a 2-picture deal from A24. This is that second film, but he has been learning from the best since the age of 18, working on 3 Terrence Malick films, starting with “Tree of Life” in Hawaii.
The film is beautifully shot and paranoia is justified and created with the skillful use of camera, sound and light (see my interview with Trey Shults on www.TheMovieBlog.com for details). This is a riveting, horrific picture of a future we can only hope never becomes a reality. I am still thinking about it today, four days later. Yet Shults resists calling it a horror film, and believes it is far more about psychological horror than a genre flick with monsters or things that go bump in the night (as they literally do in this one.)
For some, the questions we are left with as the film ends will cause criticism. There are times at the “end” of a piece (remember the finale of “The Sopranos”?) when viewers feel they have been shortchanged or cheated by the ending. For me, this was not an issue, as it was pretty clear what was probably going to happen next. Still, I understand those who want more of a “Breaking Bad” type of ending, where things are wrapped up neatly and some characters live and some characters die (and spin-offs are even made possible by the “concluded” feeling.)
Two other things that may cause Shults some criticism from some sources will be his intentional intermingling of the dream sequences (nightmares, really) with reality. They will say (truthfully) that it is sometimes difficult to tell what is a dream and what is reality.
Again, this did not cause me any problems. After listening to Shults explain why this was intentionally done, it made even more sense. He explained that he saw the dream sequences as a way into Travis’ mind. (And Travis = Trey). It is Travis’ point-of-view through which we see the story, even though it is his father, Paul (Joel Edgerton), who is dictating the terms of Travis’ young life.
And last, some will say, “Why is it called ‘It Comes At Night’?” Shults explained that night is the time when he is at his most creative and it was a title that sounded good. Hopefully, he said, it helps put you in the heads of the main characters. It is not a literal interpretation of what occurs in the film but more a metaphor, so be warned.
This is the beginning of a bright future for a very gifted filmmaker.
Genre: Horror/psychological thriller/Mystery
Length: 97 minutes
Writer/Director: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Griffin Robert Faulkner, David Pendleton
Reviewer: Connie Wilson