Sometimes the scariest things about humanity can be humanity itself and what we are willing to do. That’s the message for A24’s newest should-be horror classic “It Comes At Night” which trades in in-you-face horror clichés for a stanch look at the fear that lies in all of us in a world of insecurity and unseen danger. To that end, “It Comes At Night” does not disappoint, unless of course you’re looking for a few cheep scares rather than a more stripped down, thought provoking quality horror film about the darkness that lies in all of us.
“It Comes At Night” stars Joel Edgerton as Paul, a paranoid man hiding his wife Sarah and son Travis, played by Carmen Ejogo an Kelvin Harrison respectively, in an isolated cabin during an unknown outbreak in a seemingly post apocalyptic home. When a mysterious man named Will, played by Christopher Abbott, attempts to break into their home Paul interrogates him and, after a few days testing Will’s health with an epidemic infecting the world, welcomes Will’s wife Kim, played by Riley Keough, and young son Andrew into the cabin to protect them as well. As the days tick by, distrust spreads between the two families causing Paul to have to put his own humanity into question to protect what’s most precious to him.
As I implied earlier, this is not a horror film for anyone looking for cheap jump scares, unabashed gore, and over-the-top thrills. This is a thought provoking horror film in the same vein as “The Witch” and “Get Out” in that it depends very little on clichés and focuses more on the terror and horror associated with humanity itself. The film is very focused on these two families, despite the issues the world outside are clearly facing, and puts the attention squarely on how these people have suffered mentally from the fear of a disease infecting humanity, with seemingly no safe place to go to escape the unseen threat.
It’s actually a very one-dimensional film while at the same time exploring so many different themes in its limited setting. While the entire movie is focused purely on what takes place between these few characters in this one cabin, save for one very powerful interaction with a few other survivors on the road, we see the characters explore many different sins of humanity including the young Travis suffering from nightmares involving sexual arousal and a fear of the disease and Paul coming to the realization that his invited guest Will is forming a fast and close bond with a son he can’t seem to connect with. To that end the scariest things about “It Comes At Night” is that it’s an eye opener that reveals some disturbing truths about us all. Given the chance it might make you question what you would do in this scenario or that scenario and serves as a character study of the average man in a time where society has fallen apart. It’s also a story that exemplifies how terror can spread in a small group rather than in a large population. Many horror films choose to embrace a larger city setting and a massive group of people to express the fear of an epidemic, but in “It Comes At Night” the threat has already been established and society has already broken down. These two families are secure from the outside world, without the mass population of humanity around them, and yet they still can’t escape the fear of each other and what the world has become.
This is also a very artistic film. Director Trey Edward Shults has a great sense for providing atmosphere and imagery that shows off the simple themes hidden within the larger narrative of the film. This is a movie that might frustrate people because it will make you think. It’s not going to sugar coat things for you or spoon feed anything to the viewers. It’s unapologetically harsh and cryptic in many parts, which in my opinion is part of its charm and value as a quality film. It wants you to pay attention, to think, to wonder, and to contemplate the truly scary aspects of a very simple story. The fear is not thrown in your face. The fear comes from one’s own personal realization of what “It Comes At Night” is trying to say and considering the fact that much of the movie’s darker moments DO in fact come at night, the title itself proves to be it’s own thought provoking detail.
I can’t go without talking about the cast because it’s actually here that I find the biggest fault of this movie. Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. dominate the screen time as Paul, Will, and Paul’s son Travis as much of the conflict really revolves around the relationship of this trio and the emotions and thoughts and distrust these relationships create. The three own every minute of screen time and turn in great performances worthy of recognition. However, in my opinion the remainder of the cast goes severely underutilized. Carmen Ejogo and Riley Keough as Sarah and Kim have very little committed screen time between them and are given few lines other than responding to or playing off their male counterparts. While the two prove to be great mother figures, including one rather disturbing and heart wrenching moment for Keough’s character specifically. I felt like the film’s one-dimensional approach betrayed it when it came to character development. There were times I even forgot there were significant female characters in this film as the two wives are essentially relegated to side-character status, there for the sake of being there and to provide some deeper character development for Paul and Will rather than exploring their own storylines and character on a deeper level. I would have liked to have learned more about these women and how the apocalypse and the insecurities surrounding them effects them as much as the men to create a complete picture of how these families are impacted by the state of the world around them.
“It Comes At Night” is not you’re typical cheesy horror film and continues a string of more sophisticated horror movie that have dominated the past few years. While other recent projects like “Don’t Breath” have proven that there is still a place for graphic content in horror, “It Comes At Night” also proves that sometimes less can be more when it comes to presenting a more real-world idea of horror. Don’t go into this movie believing you’re going to get some cheep thrills and easy scares. This is a horror movie about the dangers of humanity itself and what we, as people, would be willing to do to protect those we love. With deep and thought provoking themes, an artistic approach to storytelling, and some very real performances by at least its male leads, “It Comes At Night” might not be the horror movie you want, but it’s the one that deserves to be seen, respected, and appreciated for what it is, a truly human horror tale that speaks to the demons inside us all. If it weren’t for it’s lack of commitment to character development, this would be a perfect horror film in a new age of relevance for the genre.