Trey Edward Shults’ newest film, the slow moving, claustrophobic horror film It Comes At Night, centers around a small family of three living in the middle of the woods to escape a deadly virus outbreak. The father of the family, Paul, played by Joel Edgerton, is strict and paranoid, taking every possible precaution to keep his family safe. The movie is seen mainly through the eyes of his only son, Travis, played by standout Kelvin Harrison Jr. Travis struggles throughout the film with what is right and wrong and whether or not to follow in the footsteps of his father.
Recently, there has been a lot of conversation about It Comes At Night and it’s marketing strategy online. The film originally sold through the trailers is not the film that is on screen. However, if you can forget about the trailers and go in with an open mind, It Comes At Night is still a triumph of horror, continuing the recent trend of excellent low budget horror movies. Schults is able to create a very dark, somber, and fearful atmosphere in very minimalistic and beautiful ways.
First and foremost, the cinematography in It Comes At Night is fantastic. Long shots of characters walking in the dark build tension repeatedly and I found myself gripping the seat multiple times waiting for something to break the tension. But that’s what makes It Comes At Night so divisive amongst fans; those jump scares never come. I find that to be a strength, as the movie is still scary as hell without having to shock the audience into a quick scream. What the movie does really well is executing fifteen to twenty minute cycles of rising tension. Instead of giving us small moments of scares mixed with longer sequences of characters having simple conversations, It Comes At Night is always building tension. Every word spoken, every glance in the dark, every single frame helps build the fear within the characters, as well as the audience, until there is a scare or release.Then, the tension begins to rise again. This technique is very refreshing, as most horror films today don’t really do this. They don’t worry about atmosphere as much as big, flashy scares. The only other film recently to use the same technique was The Witch, another A24 property, and if you liked that, I would guess you’ll probably like this film as well.
The performances across the board were also excellent. The two standouts being the always stellar Joel Edgerton and the young newcomer Kelvin Harrison Jr. Both men are extremely believable as a strained father and son duo coming to grips with the tough reality that they live in. Edgerton is a man who has basically abandoned all hope in an attempt to keep his family alive, and Harrison Jr is that man’s son who isn’t ready to abandon humanity quite yet. This creates a nice subplot between the characters and their clashing motives. Harrison Jr plays the role perfectly, clearly wanting to be a man but still under the thumb of his father. We’re able to see the frustration between the two as they fall apart and that tension adds to the rest of the film and it’s constant sense of dread.
Overall, It Comes At Night is not your usual horror film, but it is an extremely strong, scary film. Forget the trailers and go in with a clean slate. Allow yourself to be sucked into the dark, dreadful world that Trey Edward Shults has expertly crafted and prepare to be scared.