Movie Review: ‘IT COMES AT NIGHT’ infects horror with a new vision of terror


Preston Barta // Features Editor

Rated R, 97 minutes.
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Joel EdgertonCarmen EjogoChristopher AbbottRiley KeoughKelvin Harrison Jr.Griffin Robert Faulkner and David Pendleton

Have you ever watched a movie that you were dying to see but when the end credits came up you thought, “Wait… that’s it?” I can certainly remember that feeling in 2004 when the trailers for M. Night Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE led us to believe we were going to watch a terrifying monster movie. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

While it didn’t meet my expectations, I haven’t been able to shake THE VILLAGE after all these years. I suppose I have generic Hollywood moviemaking and misleading marketing to thank for my initial disappointment, because whenever I see a film that screws up my radar I’m quick to label it awful, when the truth is I’m afraid for a movie to make me feel different.

Similarly, and more effectively, Trey Edward Shults’ follow-up to his equally as obscure domestic drama KRISHA (our review), IT COMES AT NIGHT, is sure to divide horror audiences, but will also attach itself like a leech to invade your thoughts and dreams.

The film takes place after an enigmatic virus wipes out most of civilization, or at least that’s what the audience can conclude. Sensibly, IT COMES AT NIGHT throws you in the middle of its fearsome situation without much explanation. The disease itself is only scarcely understood by its characters, so it’s up to the viewer to sweep up the breadcrumbs along the way to make sense of it all.

Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr. in a tension-filled scene from ‘IT COMES AT NIGHT.’ Courtesy of A24.

At the film’s opening we see one of its characters equipped with a gas mask and gloves while they attempt to bring about peace to an old man on his deathbed. The beloved old man (David Pendleton) is the father of Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), who, with her husband Paul (Joel Edgerton) and 17-year-old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), are trying to survive a global epidemic by living deep in the woods. Each day creeps by, but they are determined to defeat the outbreak. So when Sarah’s dad shows signs of the infection, Paul shoots him and burns his corpse. Nothing against the guy; it’s just a survival tactic.

However, the family’s lives are truly upended when an intruder (Christopher Abbott) comes looking for food and shelter for his own family (Riley Keough and Griffin Robert Faulkner). Henceforth, IT COMES AT NIGHT fashions itself to become quite the intense game of paranoia, trust and regret.

If you are craving a conventional horror movie with exciting scares and clearly defined answers, seek elsewhere. This is not that movie. Truthfully, IT COMES AT NIGHT has more in common with Shults’ previous film KRISHA than your common wide-release horror film. There are no real scares to be found, only a continuous sense of dread that doesn’t let up. It’s a film that is more interested in constructing a specific atmosphere that allows viewers to stew.

That’s not to say there aren’t moments that’ll make you shriek or hold your armrest with a deadly grip. Shults stylishly and expertly generates a whirlpool of tension and mystery, occasionally mirroring what we often see in our darkest of nightmares. The couple’s son, Travis, has dreams in the film that showcase these frightening images to an overwhelming degree.

IT COMES AT NIGHT provides more questions than answers, often sinking too deep into ambiguity for audiences to come up for air. This narrative structure is simultaneously its greatest draw and most frustrating flaw. Whether it leaves you unappeased or blown away, its allegorical themes will follow you home and haunt you for days.

Grade: B

IT COMES AT NIGHT opens on Friday (6/9).

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.