The post-apocalyptic/mankind on the verge of extinction/epidemic virus crisis genre continues to grow at a rapid pace. From “World War Z”, “Contagion” and “28 Days Later” to the “Planet of the Apes” and “Hunger Games” franchises, and even “WALL-E”, we’ve seen it all.
Joel Edgerton was a producer on the 2014 indie “The Rover”, which took a quieter, more intimate approach to life after “the end of the world”. He returns to this topic with the low-budget suspense horror/thriller “It Comes At Night”, which he also stars in. As with “The Rover”, there’s only a handful of characters to tell this story. However, the vision of writer/director Trey Edward Shults is a bit more ambitious.
“It Comes At Night” centers on a family living a remote house in the woods following a global disease crisis. Specifics are never addressed, but it’s safe to say that things aren’t good. At one point Paul (Edgerton) does admit that he used to be a history teacher. That’s about all we get for a backstory, and that’s OK. This tale is about surviving in the now – minute to minute, day to day. Paul, his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), 17-year-old son Travis and a dog named Stanley have strict rules to follow. The goal is to avoid coming into contact with anyone or anything already infested with the disease. But complications arise when the family gets a visitor.
Shults showcases his stylized direction early on with some inventive visuals. He also uses minimalist lighting techniques to create an eerie, claustrophobic atmosphere inside the house. The first half hour of “It Comes At Night” provides a few of the scares and jolts that audiences expect from horror movies. The gore/blood level, however, is way below the norm.
And that’s because “It Comes At Night” quickly turns into a psychological thriller. Young Travis (played by Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) becomes the focal character. We experience this living nightmare from the point of view of an adolescent – who’s too young to be a great help to his father but too old to sit back and do nothing. Unfortunately, Shults over does it with Travis’s dream sequences, which continually take the audience out of the moment.
Similar to last year’s “10 Cloverfield Lane”, “It Comes At Night” puts a small group of people in a tight space under dire circumstances to see how they’ll react. But some of the film’s key elements go unanswered, making things a little too open-ended. And Shults ultimately leads us down a familiar path with the final act. That is, with everything except the significance of the title. What “comes at night” isn’t actually what you expect.
On the plus side, “It Comes At Night” is engaging from the opening scene and technically impressive, with a likable, believable cast and effective score. More intensity from the script and a deeper, fresher perspective could have saved it from a fate of being lumped-in with the rest of the offerings in this genre.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “It Comes At Night” gets a B-.
Running Time: 97 min.