By Phil Thomas (Philadelphia, PA)
In their continuing tradition of art-horror, A24, the studio responsible for The Witch brings us It Comes at Night, a claustrophobic experience with “home invasion” genre elements. The film was brought to my attention after a mind-opening viewing of A Ghost Story at my local theater and I decided to give it a chance. Originally released in summer 2017, it wasn’t until recently that I sat down to watch this strange journey involving a family who is isolated from the outside world due to a strange virus that afflicts the population.
Although this global virus and its origins are never completely explained, writer/director Trey Edward Shults trickles out just enough information that the viewer receives a subtle understanding of the larger picture. The film begins with the discovery of Bud’s (David Pendleton) infection and execution during the first few minutes and culminates shortly after to the arrival of Will (Christopher Abbott), an intruder who is discovered behind the family’s quarantined red door and is immediately captured and interrogated by Paul (Joel Edgerton). This sets the mood for the entire running time and it manages to persist with a constant sense of uneasiness even if it’s sometimes difficult to realize where it originates.
Will, maintaining his innocence insists that he was simply searching for food supplies while his family patiently awaits his return in an abandoned house some fifty-miles away. Paul leaves his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their teenaged son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) behind to retrieve Will’s wife Kim (Riley Keough) and young son Andrew (Griffin Faulkner) in the hopes of combining their resources and ensuring their survival.
Their initial return brings a togetherness, conversation and companionship that both families are missing and sets up powerful misdirection that makes you wonder if the eventual conflict will erupt from within their circle or another outside source. I received my answer when Travis – who is continually plagued by horrific nightmares of his deceased grandfather, Bud – discovers Andrew out of bed and sleeping in another room. The red quarantined door is found open and when Travis’s father questions him about exposure without a hazmat suit, he retains that the door was never open and reinforces to his concerned parents that neither he nor Andrew were exposed.
The audience is treated to the realization that the red doorway was in fact open, and Travis is attempting a cover-up which leads to the two families’ temporary separation and ultimately its shocking conclusion.
As all of these internal events transpire, it’s easy to visualize what might have triggered this global pandemic but we’re never granted an explanation as to how or why this virus spread, so the viewer is left to make these determinations on their own. We never actually see victims roaming the streets or large cities under siege. We just know it’s out there. We’re tasked with exercising our imaginations in this scenario and I believe that this was writer/director Trey Edward Shults’s ultimate intention. I actually enjoyed the “less is more” approach and basked in the much needed break from having every plot structure explained to the point of exhaustion, but I also realize that I may be in the minority here.
However, if you’re a fan of offbeat art-horror I highly recommend It Comes at Night. Just be warned that if you prefer action packed horror such as 30 Days of Night or World War Z, you might want to skip this one.