Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A24 Review: It Comes At Night

by Michael Drinan

Director: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough

There’s a virus that has spread and people are getting sick, killing them in a day. Society has collapsed and people are left in boarded up homes full of paranoia, caution, distrust and self preservation, while food, water and provisions are rare. Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore film (also directed 2016’s Krisha, another A24 film) does not ease into this nightmare. The film opens with a man covered in lesions, clearly infected and a woman in a gas mask and gloves telling him it’s okay to let go. The man is taken out, shot in the head and the body is burned by the father, Paul (Joel Edgerton), and his son Travis (remarkably played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.). This cold and chilling scene sets the tone for A24's latest addition to the horror genre.

A big portion of audiences feel this film has been mismarketed and the film’s trailers advertise it as a horror film when it isn’t one, submitting to a 43% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So, let this here be your warning: this isn’t a traditional, gory horror flick. Like the majority of A24’s films, this one does not fit neatly into a category or classification. The gore and horror remain, for the most part, off screen leaving it up to the audience's imaginations to provide the terror. Shults (who also wrote the film) also does not feel the need to answer any questions the story brings up, and he doesn’t need to. The film stays with the story and the characters and simply progresses scene to scene. Anything beyond that, is up to the audience and it works beautifully.

The majority of the film takes place within the family’s secluded and boarded up home, where there is only one way in or out, through a locked red door to which Paul is the only one with the set of keys. They eventually invite another family in and it ends up bringing out the true horror within each character.

You don’t know exactly what this virus is, you just know what it does. All the characters are on edge and each new development in the film causes you to be on that same edge. What is right versus what is wrong is no longer a question. For Paul, the question becomes how do I best protect my family? Paul is strong-willed, intelligent and aware of the lengths one will go to when desperate. This attitude runs into conflict with Travis, who is seventeen, trusting and innocent, and thus becomes the foil of the film to Paul. Travis is trying to hold on to a sense of normality and believes that people are good. The film nurtures both attitudes to a chilling and suspenseful climax.

The acting is very good, especially Edgerton whose performance doesn’t miss a beat or seem to lack in intensity. He is convincing as an intellectual survivalist. His scene in the woods when we are introduced to Will is spectacular. The back and forth between Paul and Will is one of the most tense interactions, and it should be since both men are trying to protect and take care of their families.

The technical aspects of this film are extraordinary. Almost all the lighting in the film is provided in scene, which creates great effect and tension in certain scenes, like the brightly lit lantern in the dark hallway passage leading to the red door or the flashlight at the end of Paul’s gun in the forest. Shults also meticulously plays with the film’s aspect ratio (pay attention to the black bars at the bottom and top of the screen) while weaving between Travis’ dream sequences and reality…..or does it? (no spoilers here) Neither the lighting or the aspect ratio changes are anything new in the horror genre, but they don’t feel out of place, unnecessary or felt like an homage to previous works. They’re used to great effect and thus feel fresh and original.

It Comes At Night is a really good movie that plays on the apocalyptic fears of its audience. Its brilliant use of lighting, aspect ratios and off-camera action make this a thrilling film worth seeing in the theater. Shults has definitely fought off the sophomore slump with this film and has me anxiously waiting for his next project.

I give this film *** out of ****

This film is currently in theaters.

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