Much remains unanswered in the low-budget mystery-horror film, It Comes at Night.
Award-winning filmmaker Trey Edward Shults follows his breakout debut Krishna with this psychological thriller. It centres on a teenage boy, Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), as he grapples with mounting terrors – both external and internal – in the aftermath of an unnamed cataclysm.
Seventeen year-old Travis lives in a desolate home with his protective and heavily armed parents (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo). He deals with fear, grief and paranoia amid scarce resources. Then a desperate young couple (Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough) seek refuge in the home with their young child. Despite the best intentions of both families, panic and mistrust boil over – as the horrors of the outside world creep ever closer.
The mood is set from the outset. An elderly man is comforted on his deathbed before being carried to a grave-site in the forest. As its title suggests, It Comes At Night is rooted in nightmares – literal and figurative. Awash with dream references, it shifts from reality to phantasm.
The story unravels as Travis’s waking nightmare. He tries to process the combined terrors around him. These include the outside catastrophe, his overprotective father, and his own unpredictable mindset. Then the arrival of the new family destabilises the dynamics of his carefully organised home. It is about him navigating the chaos that surrounds him.
It takes a while to establish what is going down, but the gravity of the situation is never in doubt. This is a life and death struggle in which no-one can be trusted.
Karen Murphy (The Great Gatsby) is responsible for the insular production design. Texan-born cinematographer Drew Daniels pulls focus; while Brian McOmber’s score adds to the unease.
Edgerton’s tense performance is the glue that binds this together, but ultimately I wanted and needed more. His portrayal as the family patriarch employs a kind of tough love that frequently erupts into caustic aggression. His character illuminates a crisis of power, masculinity and fatherhood. That echoes Shults’ own self-examination in the wake of his father’s death.
More whys and wherefores should have been answered to give the film greater substance and meaning. I felt the plot not only had holes in it, but was underdeveloped. I would have liked to have learned more about the characters so I could empathise more with their predicament. That required more back stories and interaction between them.
In the end I couldn’t help thinking that for all its promise, It Comes At Night was too laboured. Rated MA, it scores a 6 out of 10.
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Carmen Ejogo, Joel Edgerton
Release Date: 6 July 2017
Rating: MA 15+
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television