IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) is everything that the rebooted THE MUMMY (2017) is not.
It’s simple in its execution, it’s believable, it’s frightening, and its depiction of horror on the big screen is as pure as it gets. The only thing the two films have in common is they opened on the same weekend.
IT COMES AT NIGHT takes place during a time when some unknown disease has crippled the world, thrusting people into heavy-duty survival mode. We meet a family of three, the father Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) just as they’re dealing with Travis’ grandfather Bud (David Pendleton), who has succumbed to the disease. They perform a mercy killing and then burn the body.
The family lives inside a house which they keep locked and boarded up, and they don’t venture outside without gas masks. With all contact with the outside world shut down, they can only guess as to what is going on. All they know is that infections happen and people die.
Things are relatively calm for them until one night a man named Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their home. When they learn that he has a wife and young son, they debate whether or not they should invite them inside. On the one hand, they know it’s best not to trust anyone, but on the other hand there is safety in numbers, especially since the surrounding woods are seen as threatening, as no one knows what is really happening, other than people will do anything to survive.
They decide to invite Will and his family into their home, and the two families work together, until the inevitable matter of trust or lack thereof begins to rear its head and mess with their minds.
IT COMES AT NIGHT is an example of movie making at its finest. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults has taken a simple straightforward story— it’s basically THE WALKING DEAD without the zombies, and in fact, shares the intensity of the show’s best episodes— and made it compelling and frightening, all without gimmicks or special effects.
The best part about this movie is Shults’ directorial style. The bulk of the action takes place inside the boarded up home, and as such makes for a very claustrophobic experience. The audience definitely shares the feelings of isolation with the characters.
The film is quiet and unassuming. There are no major special effects or extreme scenes of violence and carnage, yet the suspense is high throughout. A walk into the surrounding woods at night is a sweat-inducing experience. The camera stays in close with characters, who we get to know and care for.
And that’s because Shults’ screenplay is a good one. He creates three-dimensional characters who we care about, and so as the movie goes along and lines are drawn between the families, you don’t want to see either family harmed. It makes for some wince-inducing storytelling.
It also creates a threat— an unknown disease— that works as a major menace in the movie even though we know absolutely nothing about it, other than it kills. It puts the audience in the same place as the characters, and it works wonderfully.
Joel Edgerton, an actor I like a lot, is very good here as the head of the household, Paul. He trusts no one and armed with a shotgun will kill without hesitation to protect his family, but he also is extremely sensitive and caring towards his son Travis. He goes out of his way to explain to Travis why he does certain things and why these difficult decisions have to be made. Travis comes off as a dedicated family man who must do whatever it takes to protect his family.
I’ve seen Edgerton in a bunch of movies, and I’ve pretty much enjoyed him in all of them, from his role as Tom Buchanan in THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), to his fine work opposite Johnny Depp in BLACK MASS (2015), to his battling aliens in the rebooted THE THING (2011). Edgerton’s work here is as good as ever.
Carmen Ejogo, who played Coretta Scott King in SELMA (2014) and who also just starred in ALIEN: COVENANT (2017), plays Paul’s wife and Travis’ mom, Sarah. She’s sufficiently serious and thoughtful. No one in this film is a loose cannon or an idiot. As such, you care about them all.
Christopher Abbott does a nice job as Will, the man who breaks into their home and then claims he was just looking for supplies for his wife and little son. Abbott makes Will a fine three-dimensional character. There’s something less than trustworthy about him, yet he does have that family, and the suspicion about him could certainly stem from his own agenda, that he has his own family to take care of. Again, it puts the audience in the same seat with Paul- do you trust Will, or not?
Also excellent is Riley Keough as Will’s young wife Kim. Like the rest of the cast, she creates a three-dimensional character. Kim is also involved in a sub-plot where teen Travis develops a crush on her, and the two share some very interesting scenes. Keough, by the way, is the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, making her the granddaughter of Elvis Presley and Priscilla Presley.
And Kelvin Harrison Jr. really stands out as Travis. For most of the film, Travis is a quiet introspective young man who is very sensitive. We see the horror of what’s going on in their world through his eyes. It makes some of the film’s more disturbing scenes all the more powerful as we experience them along with Travis.
Travis is also prone to having vivid dreams, several of which make for some frightening moments in the movie. The dreams are symbolic of the dreams of youth, although in this case, they are all dark and nightmarish, showing us firsthand that this is now the world that young Travis has been left with.
It’s also worth noting that the family here is of mixed race. Paul is white and Sarah is black. While refreshing, it’s also the type of thing that needs to happen more and more in the movies, and when it does, it’s important to celebrate it.
While I loved IT COMES AT NIGHT, it does have some flaws, and I can see how some people might be disappointed by it. For one thing, the threat here is never explained, and while I didn’t have a huge problem with this, had the film taken that next step and immersed us into a specific threat, it might have been a stronger movie.
I saw it with an audience full of teenagers, and when it ended, they were vocally disappointed. Someone said, “It comes at night? Nothing came!” I wanted to lean over and say in my best Donald Pleasence voice, “Death came at night.” Because, really, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. The specific threat isn’t important. If the characters aren’t careful, they’re going to die.
IT COMES AT NIGHT shares a similar tone and feel with the quiet zombie movie MAGGIE (2015), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I liked IT COMES AT NIGHT much better because it packs a bigger punch with its horror elements and with the suspense.
If you like your horror pure and simple, without convoluted stories or overblown special effects or gratuitous blood and gore, if you simply like to be scared, and to watch a story about characters you care about thrown into a situation which puts them in extreme danger, then IT COMES AT NIGHT is the movie for you.
It’s the type of horror movie that’s good for the genre, a horror film, like the recent GET OUT (2017), that makes horror fans proud.