Superficially, It Comes At Night appears to be a fairly traditional, unexceptional, low budget character piece in which a group of edgy, ill-matched survivors of a global apocalypse struggle to stay alive in a hostile and unfamiliar world. But in truth there’s actually quite a bit more to it and, frustratingly, quite a bit less too.
We’re in a cold, brutal world ravaged by some unspecified disease. Travis (Harrison Jr.), teenage son of brittle survivors Paul (Edgerton) and Sarah (Ejogo) watches in numbed horror as his father puts his grandfather out of his disease-ridden misery, throws the body into a shallow grave and sets it alight. The next night their secure home, deep in isolated woodland, is breached by Will (Abbott) searching for supplies for his family, unaware that the house is occupied. Suspicion, paranoia and violence are never far away in this cruel new world but eventually Paul decides to trust Will and he invites him, his wife and young son into their sanctuary. For a while they seem to get along well, slipping into an affable, private routine. But soon the cracks begin to show when it seems that Will might not have been entirely open and honest and that there might just be something out there in the woods…
It Comes at Night is, as a title, a bit of a misnomer. It’s not really much of a spoiler to reveal that no, it doesn’t come at night – but then that might depend on what your perspective is on what ‘it’ actually might be. And this is a film that allows its audience to walk away with lots of questions unanswered. What, if anything, is in the woods? What really went on during the night that causes the group’s relationship to start to disintegrate? What happened to the family dog? What secrets do Will and his family hide and what’s the truth about their journey so far? This is a film which has no interest in answering many of the questions it sets which either makes it a sloppy, frustrating experience or a daring, atmospheric, relentlessly-grim apocalyptic drama which, perhaps, reflects reality in that we don’t always get all the answers and that some things are better left unknown and unsaid. What’s fairly certain, though, is that despite its juddering pace and narrative ambiguity, It Comes at Night is a disturbing look at human nature and it’s a film which will leave you pondering its meaning and, perhaps, its purpose, long after you walk away from it. It’s a moody, shadowy film powered by a glowering performance from the increasingly impressive Joel Edgerton (and with an excellent turn from Harrison Jr. as troubled son Travis) and with its emphasis firmly on character and story. The exact nature of the apocalypse is kept vague in this small, intimate story of a handful of jittery, nervous people doing all they can to survive in a grave new world riven by suspicion, fear and mistrust.
It Comes at Night won’t suit all tastes; in tone it’s not entirely dissimilar to 2015’s underrated Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie drama Maggie in that it’s a difficult, angular, uncomfortable film aiming for the art house audience rather than the multiplex masses. It Comes at Night demands that its audience’s work with it and the end result, whilst not always entirely satisfactory, is never less than compelling and highly watchable.
Special features: Director commentary / Human Nature – creating It Comes at Night feature
IT COMES AT NIGHT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: TREY EDWARD SHULTS / STARRING: JOEL EDGERTON, CHRISTOPHER ABBOTT, CARMEN EJOGO, KELVIN HARRISON JR, RILEY KEOUGH / RELEASE DATE: 30TH OCTOBER