Where: Bristol Watershed
When: Monday 10th July 2017, 20:30.
It Comes at Night (15)
Dir. Trey Edward Shults
Run time: 1hr 31mins
It’s been a long time since I have been to a cinema and seen a decent horror movie. The feeling that producers and directors have become lazy with the horror formula has been hard to shake and the endless prequels, sequels and reboots offer nothing new to an already saturated market.
Director Shults’ only other offering – ‘Krisha’ (2015) received mixed, but generally favourable views and also explores unusual family dynamics and one family member’s ability to affect those around them in powerful ways.
With only a very vague teaser and the word of my cinema-buddy, I went into the screen with no illusions, no preconceptions and, rarely for a modern cinema goer, having not seen all the jumpy shockers in the trailer.
‘It Comes at Night’ tells the story of Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo). A couple barely surviving in an abandoned holiday home in the woods with their teenaged son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in the aftermath of an unnamed viral event. One of the nice things about the film is that there is no explicit mention of where they are, or how long after the outbreak these events take place, which leaves the audience to form a picture of what has happened based on the interactions of the characters.
The family have fashioned a life for themselves and appear to have protected themselves well from the physical threat, however the mental and emotional strain is just starting to creep in. For Travis especially, the isolation and constant lack of answers are having a profound mental and emotional effect.
As they all struggle to cope with a traumatic event, each in their own way, their security is further threatened by the appearance of another human being, Will (Christopher Abbott). The build up to Will’s appearance is well paced and maintains a level of intensity which is carried right through even after the ‘reveal’. Paul is not afraid to take extreme action to protect his family from any contamination and is happy to leave the intruder gagged and bound outside for several days, in order to satisfy himself there is no threat of infection.
Will has to convince Paul, and the audience, that he means no harm and was simply trying to find water. The interaction between the pair is wonderfully human, and although very little is given away, the audience is able to grasp what is happening in the wider world.
What follows is a scene I feel is not required for the story development and feels a little bit like it has been put in for some obligatory jumpy scares. If i’m feeling generous I would also like to think it had been included to further demonstrate Paul’s state of mind and how willing he is to stay safe from infection at all costs. However it wasn’t really necessary.
With the two families now sharing living conditions, what follows is a demonstration of the newly emerging strain between Paul and Travis, Travis’ longing for a ‘normal’ way of life, and the fact he is not a child any more. His obvious interest in Will’s wife Kim (Riley Keough) is noticed by both Kim herself and Paul. With the two families now forced to co-habit, the dynamic that was previously established has shifted, and Paul is no longer the alpha male, having to share this responsibility with Will, increasingly feeling threatened that Travis is building a rapport with Will. It is eluded to that even before this event occurred, life for Travis and Sarah was probably closely controlled by Paul.
The building tension was both well maintained and realistic, with the scene where Paul and Will share a late night drink causing the audience to question what is truth and what the true motivation behind the uneasy coalition is. Whilst nothing is ever truly revealed, the audience certainly knows that there is something other than the story we have been presented with happening.
Meanwhile an increasingly distressed Travis isn’t sleeping and is being plagued by nightmares. He frequently roams the house, observing the interaction of the others through spying on them from the attic. During one of his late night wanders about the house, he discovers Will and Kim’s child Andrew asleep in another room. After helping him back to bed, Travis continues his patrol, discovering the front door open and hearing noises in the porch.
After frantically alerting the house, Paul and Will discover Stanley, the family dog, and last of Travis’ companions has contracted the virus and is in a bad way, leaving Travis further distraught. As the two families discuss what happened to Stanley, Travis maintains the door was already open and suggests Andrew may have accidentally opened it, as he had sleepwalked into another room. Instantly Paul is convinced Andrew is now sick with the virus and suggests the two families stay apart for a few days.
When it becomes clear that Andrew is likely to be sick, Travis realises his contact with the child has put him in danger. What follows is a shocking showdown and revelation that I will not detail here as I don’t wish to give away too much.
The film is well paced and there are no points where I felt the story went too far off course, although I did struggle a little bit with understanding how Andrew may have contracted the virus – I presume his potential interaction with dog if he managed to open the door whilst sleepwalking.
The lighting is excellent for a film set in dark woodlands, a poorly lit and boarded up house. There is always the risk that much of the action is missed as it is too dark, however the use of halogen camping lamps and rifle sights is inspired. Often there is a reliance on frightening the audience with what they can’t see and this didn’t happen here, with tension and implied threat doing the work.
I thoroughly enjoyed Joel Edgerton’s performance, and found his and Kelvin Harrison Jr’s onscreen relationship natural. I struggled to see the point of Riley Keough’s character, Kim and somehow couldn’t be fully taken in with her relationship with her son Andrew. The focus of the film is firmly on the male dynamic, with the women providing emotional support and I felt Carmen Ejogo provided empathy and loyalty.
I have read other reviews, and even an interview with the director, which make parallels to George A. Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968) and I can definitely see why this comparison would be made, going beyond the obvious race casting. The horror in ‘It Comes at Night’ is much more subtle, but the terror of strangers being cooped up in a house together, fighting an unknown threat runs through both films and a tried and tested way of ramping up tension
I do understand that many people were disappointed as they went to the cinema expecting to see a gory horror, with all the usual scares and gratuitous violence, but for those that like their horror a little more grown-up and closer to home, this eerie, slow burning dissection of what can happen to ‘the good guy’ if put under enough fear and pressure is perfect.
With a cast of 9 (if you count the dog), an atmospheric location and a very complimentary soundtrack, this film shows how to create tension and claustrophobia, without having to pander to preconceived ideals. This gem of a film has rewritten the viral outbreak genre.
And remember kids, there’s nothing to fear, but fear itself…
Suspense / tension: 4/5