It Comes At Night will be the talk of the town, at least for movie buffs, for quite a spell. Its immersive storytelling heralds the distinct cinematic voice of writer/director Trey Edward Shults, and the film’s overall effectiveness should divide many a viewer. Two weeks after watching It Comes At Night, my reaction to the film has wavered back and forth, but I’ve come to a final decision.
Paul (Joel Edgerton), along with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live during dystopic times, as a mysterious plague is eradicating humanity. Living out in the remote woods, hunting for their sustenance, and making sure they never leave the house at night is Paul’s way of ensuring his family’s survival. When a stranger (Christopher Abbott) attempts to break into their home, Paul must make a fateful decision on whether or not to kill him.
Will is the aforementioned stranger, and he has a family of his own (Riley Keough plays his wife and Griffin Robert Faulkner is the son). Since Will has valuable resources of his own, Paul casts caution to the wind and brings Will’s family into his home. A two family household means more responsibilities can be divvied up in a more time efficient manner, but when one’s living in terrifying and tragic times, paranoia is just around the corner.
Edgerton, as always, delivers solid work as the film’s de facto lead, playing a man who’ll do anything to keep his loved ones out of harm’s reacj. Christopher Abbott, best known for his work on Girls and James White, is also up to the task as the man who may be hiding a completely different agenda.
The beauty behind Shults’ narrative is it works as a tense chess game between Paul and Will and as a suffocating thriller about self-survival. Though I was initially frustrated that Shults leaves several threads left for viewers to weave on their own, this creative choice ultimately won me over.
Though their parts are underwritten, Carmen Ejogo (Born to be Blue) and Riley Keough (American Honey) also bring a level of gravitas to the proceedings. The film’s biggest revelation is Kelvin Harrison Jr., as Travis becomes the tale’s most enigmatic character. A talented, sensitive artist who is coming into his own sexuality, Travis is conflicted at every turn. Shults infuses Travis with nightmarish visions which may originate from his own imaginative dreamscapes or stem from actual reality. Travis’ journey within It Comes At Night is also the tale’s most unexpected arc, and Harrison Jr. brings a beautifully rendered depth to the part.
The final moment of It Comes At Night frustrated me to no end, and movie junkies in need of a clear cut answer to everything (which is a valid desire!) will strongly dislike the continuing mysteries behind Shults’ ever shifting story.
Certain storytellers don’t give answers because they’re simply not equipped to deliver on an intriguing, and they use ambiguity as their crutch. With It Comes At Night, Shults proves that he’s a master storyteller who’s an expert at pacing and visual composition (he also delivers on the film’s action sequences).
By spelling everything out by the end of It Comes At Night, Shults may believe he would have actually cheated the audience. He knows, as we all do, that there are questions that will never be answered. The darkness is always there, even with your family beside you.
***It Comes At Night opens in select theaters June 9. Anderson Cowan and I talked about the film on the latest installment of CinemAddicts: