This will be a challenging review to write. As I am sitting here, I am still not really sure how I feel about It Comes at Night, the new horror/psychological thriller film starring Joel Edgerton. So perhaps writing this review will be cathartic in a way.
The film is set in the near future where, apparently, some virus has spread across the world and has led to many people dying. However, the post-apocalyptic world is not mentioned much and there are no details/specifics about this virus. All we know is Joel Edgerton plays Paul, whose wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live with him in isolation in the woods, following all kinds of specific rules to avoid getting sick.
Then one day, a stranger breaks into their house, believing it to be deserted, looking for water. Paul captures him and debates whether to kill him or let him go. The stranger, Will (Christopher Abbott), tells Paul that he has a wife and son as well, and he did not intend to cause them any problems. This only serves to enhance the struggle about what to do with Will. In the end, Paul and Sarah decide to ask Will and his family to come and live with them, thinking that together we would all be stronger.
However, one of the biggest issues this film investigates is that of paranoia. There are a ton of little hints that could paint a picture of Will being not exactly what he claims to be. Or… are these all red herrings that only serve to grow that paranoia in the mind of Paul?
I will say that there are not many “answers” to these questions given in the film, and some people may not like that about the film. For example, when Will was first being questioned, he said that he and his family had stayed with his brother. Later, in a conversation with Paul, Will claimed that he was an only child. When queried about the “brother,” Will said that it was actually his wife’s brother and they were like brothers. It made sense, but it is only included as a way to throw doubt into the character of Will. Things like that do not bother me. I have never been one who needed to have every little thing laid out in front of me, with every question answered, but this movie did not spend any time on revealing what was going on. Some might find it annoying.
The performances were great. Joel Edgerton has been on quite a roll lately, but the true scene stealer of this film was Kelvin Harrison Jr. Seventeen-year old Travis had most of the meatiest scenes and he pulled them off wonderfully. He had several emotional dream sequences as well as being the most developed of the characters.
The tone of the film is definitely claustrophobic, since we really do not know what was going on. There was a feeling of imminent danger at all times, especially at the night time hours, and yet it felt as if something could show up to reveal that none of what we thought was going on was really going on.
This is a character-driven film that does not rely on plot to move the story along. The plot is very sparse in many areas. It dives into the psychological aspects of this situation much more and depends on the characters personal interactions. These feel like good people that wind up doing things that they may not have planned on doing.
There are a lot of solid work in this film, directed by Trey Edward Schults. There are great shots in the film, and it creates a natural tension without the constant tropes of the horror genre. It is a very personal and smaller story set in a world that could have provided a large scale drama. The story is about trust and protecting one’s family from threats, not about some mysterious monster causing all the problems. That is where the true horror comes from.