It Comes at Night (15)
Running time 1hr 31mins
DEFYING the ghoulish expectations evinced by its title, It Comes at Night is a devastating – and devastatingly subtle – no-budget chiller, closer in tone to 2015’s hyper-grim The Survivalist or 2009’s The Road than more established post-apocalyptic efforts. Though its central ‘nemesis’, a zombifying plague, clearly lacks in originality, the film is keen to experiment with more human concerns, with the toll the disease’s mere THREAT (we don’t actually see a whole lot of the actual fallout) takes upon two groups of survivors – prior to its shocking ending, it’s a taut, exceptionally disciplined study in questions of truth and survival.
In fact, director Trey Edward Shults is quick to get his priorities out in the open, with a harrowing opening sequence involving the destruction of an infected geriatric (David Pendleton). This is the father-in-law of Paul (Joel Edgerton), a brooding, battle-hardened headman determined to keep his family alive. Having ‘treated’ us to a morbid glimpse at the horror laying siege to Paul’s woodland cabin, It Comes at Night promptly settles into a more intense, bleakly sophisticated vision of social dysfunction, with the arrival of shelter-seeking Will (Christopher Abbott) and his clan. At first, the latter are received with something approaching hospitality, but mounting paranoia results in a gradual disintegration of relations between the two bands.
There is a real sense of hopelessness about proceedings, reflected in an oppressive cinematography and some positively raw performances (namely from Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr as Paul’s kin, simultaneously his dependents and, increasingly, his prisoners). The cast are neither pitiable victims nor action heroes; they know next to nothing of their contagious tormentor, and the movie, far from a journey of discovery, only piles on the chaos and perplexity. Inevitably, there’s something very Lord of the Flies about its dismal take on moral nature, but this is by no means a simple tale of ethical deterioration; insofar as it does draw conclusions, they are more nuanced and complex than what we’ve come to expect of this genre.
Is It Comes at Night for everyone? Much like Robert Eggers’ The Witch, which toyed with similar themes, this is a most atypical horror venture; while there are more conventional scares and spectacles, they are definite sideshows to what is, in practice, a forlorn ensemble drama. Though the trailer, promising something in the crowd-pleasing I Am Legend vein, is,
therefore, bound to mislead, those who come to it with an open mind will find a well-executed, highly disturbing slice of backwoods cinema.