It Comes at Night, the taut new thriller from writer-director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha), commences with a particularly intense scene in which Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) must kill Sarah's father, who has contracted an incurable disease and been quarantined in one section of their house. They toss him in a wheelbarrow and roll him into the woods where they put a bullet in his head and then burn his body.
The scene properly sets the tone for the film, a movie that relies heavily on psychological suspense. Exactly what comes at night, we don't know. But the human imagination can conjure up some pretty wicked things. Much like the far grislier The Walking Dead, the well-crafted It Comes at Night succeeds because of its character development and acting rather than its shock value. It opens areawide on Friday.
Living in a remote wooded area, Paul and his family have developed a routine to ensure their survival. They only eat two meals a day. They've boarded the windows of their house, and they keep it locked at night. And they don't trust anyone. When Will (Christopher Abbott) tries to break into their house one night as he's roving the woods looking for supplies, Paul initially thinks he might be sick with the same disease that Sarah's father had.
But after leaving Will tied to a tree for a night, Paul realizes he hasn't been contaminated. He decides to help Will and the two go to Will's house to retrieve his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). The two families cohabitate, and all initially goes swimmingly.
But when Paul, who at one point tells Travis that he doesn't understand the extent to which desperation can make a good person do terrible things, suspects Andrew might have contracted the disease, he becomes concerned that Will and Kim might be a risk to his family.
Despite the film's minimal plot, cinematographer Drew Daniels masterfully keeps the suspense high. The movie includes long, slow pans of dark hallways and shots of dense forests with twisted tree branches that look like giant gnarled hands. Daniels succeeds in making the setting function as a character.
While all the actors deliver compelling performances, Edgerton and Abbott stand out. The scenes in which the two of them struggle to read each other's intentions suggest just how atypical this "horror" movie really is. You'd be hard-pressed to find another monster movie with such intense drama at its core.