The horror/psychological thriller has a new hero and his name is Trey Edward Shults. Having never seen his feature debut Krisha, I had no idea what to expect from the film It Comes at Night considering that there had been virtually no press for the film. Our local theatre didn’t even get an official poster for it! Nevertheless, this is one of those films that has its backbone in atmosphere and tension so much that it almost becomes more important than the details of the story.
It is at this point that I urge you, reader, if you intend to watch this film you should stop here and continue when you are done.
Here we go.
The film takes place in a non-descript but obviously some sort of apocalyptic time period where a plague-like disease has wiped out millions of people and animals leaving many to have to scrounge for whatever they can find while clinging to what they have left of their humanity. Joel Edgerton, who is quickly turning into one of my favourite actors in any genre, plays a stern but protective father to his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and young son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) when he encounters a man pilfering through the back of his house. He agrees to let this man, Will (Christopher Abbott), bring in his family to stay with them in exchange for supplies but soon everyone starts succumbing to paranoia and hysteria, which threatens to destroy the bond that they’ve built around them.
This is an incredible film. I don’t know how many different ways I need to say this but the strength of the whole thing can not be underestimated. Shults is a fantastic young director and has recruited the best cinematographer for this job that he possibly could have given the subject matter. Every scene is lit beautifully and the bleakness of the film is only highlighted by the colour design in every shot. It is not often that I discuss sound design/editing either but this film knocks that out of the park as well. Every creak is executed with fervour. You constantly feel like everything around you is suspect. All of these elements combined make it so that it doesn’t even seem natural that all these characters should occupy this limited amount of space either, which only adds to the tension anytime there’s a disagreement and/or difference of opinion.
The acting is off the charts as Edgerton gives another phenomenal show-stealing performance while seemingly doing very little on-screen. His most powerful moments are where he holds back his emotion and you see it all being bunched up in his facial expressions like he is processing the occurrence and then pushing it deep down into his gut. Carmen Ejogo does a solid job with her part as well but Kelvin Harrison Jr. really impresses with his unique representation of teen angst. He plays a character that is just about at the age where puberty is starting to swell and you get the sense that he has seen the world before the plague while at the same time being upset that he will never see the situation go back to a normal state in his lifetime. He carries the weight of the world in his expressions much like Edgerton.
The film, unlike any other, is almost non-descript in its plot. I don’t mean that in the sense that the plot doesn’t exist but rather that it is so vague that it allows the viewers to fill in the blanks with whatever their imagination will allow them to conjure up. This can be a dangerous route for a film to take and runs the risk of people seeing it as lazy or vague but incredibly, the filmmakers pull off the intended effect. How did the plague end up taking over the planet and killing so many people? Just what caused it? What lurks in the woods that ends up creating an unfortunate demise for one particular furry creature? We don’t really ever get clear answers to that and to be honest, I don’t think I wanted them.
I like to believe that the most disgusting element in the equation is humanity itself, which is what the film supposes for the most part. Humanity is the reason that everything breaks down rather than any kind of otherworldly plague or disease. That should frighten you.
It terrifies me.
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)