It Comes at Night

 

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This exercise in claustrophobia and paranoia leaves the audience as much in the dark as its characters.

 

It Comes at Night

Unusual suspects: Carmen Ejogo and Riley Keough 

  

Talk about smoke and mirrors. Trey Edward Shults’ debut film, Krisha, was warmly received by the critics. Indeed, he is a fine architect of suspense, but his screenplay for this, his sophomore outing as writer-director, lets the side down. An exercise in claustrophobia and paranoia, It Comes at Night is set in a near future in which a pathogen would appear to have wiped out a large proportion of the American public. Shults keeps his cards pretty close to his chest, though, and unlike other thrillers in this genre there are no media broadcasts to fill in the blanks.

 

The film opens with a close-up of an elderly man breathing heavily and obviously on his last legs. He is the father of Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and so Sarah’s partner, Paul (Joel Edgerton), does the decent thing, takes the old man out to the woods, shoots him in the head and incinerates him. Job done. There are nightmare sequences to come and – this really is cheating – dream sequences within dream sequences. The thing is, an audience quickly catches on to this sort of deceit.

 

What we know is that Paul, Sarah and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) have barricaded themselves into their cabin in the woods and abide by a strict set of rules. Gas masks are routinely donned, doors locked and lights kept low. In fact, most of the movie takes place in the dark and we are at a loss to even guess the dimensions of the survivors’ house. Then there’s an intruder and he’s soundly beaten by Paul, dragged into the woods, stripped to the waste and tied to a tree for the night. In the morning, the poor chap appears to exhibit no signs of the plague and so, reluctantly, Paul permits the man (Christopher Abbott) to move in with them, along with the stranger’s wife (Riley Keough) and young boy. And so, as the two families endeavour to reach a harmonious equilibrium, a tense war of nerves ensues.

 

What follows is not a lot. For starters, the title of the film is maddeningly disingenuous. The ‘it’ might suggest that there is something supernatural lurking in them thar woods. But as we are left as much in the dark as the protagonists, this is never resolved. In fact, much is left unanswered, which really isn’t fair play. To give the film its due, it is a powerful if abstract mood piece; if, that is, you’re not bothered leaving the cinema scratching your head.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner.

 

Dir Trey Edward Shults, Pro David Kaplan and Andrea Roa, Ex Pro Joel Edgerton, Screenplay Trey Edward Shults, Ph Drew Daniels, Pro Des Karen Murphy, Ed Trey Edward Shults and Matthew Hannam, Music Brian McOmber, Costumes Meghan Kasperlik.

 

Animal Kingdom-Universal Pictures.

91 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 7 July 2017. Cert. 15.