DIR /WRI: Trey Edward Shults • PRO: David Kaplan, Keetin Mayakara, Andrea Roa • DOP: Drew Daniels • ED: Matthew Hannam, Trey Edward Shults • DES: Karen Murphy • MUS: Brian McOmber • CAST: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo
It Comes at Night kicks off with a piercing dosage of horror, that accelerates with masterful subtlety, heightening tension and walking a directorial high wire with great finesse. Trey Edward Shults’ second feature clarifies a visionary talent, whose distinctive mixture of narrative discipline and cinematic restraint is a cathartic antidote to the present. The film is something of a cinematic rebirth for mainstream horror, ripping apart every ounce of superficiality, right down to the bone, leaving us with only the raw taste of horror. Veins flow, arteries throb, and hearts scream, exposing a cloud of paranoia. This is America, the land formerly known as the land of the free, now a Hades, a ghostly plane, where the diseased and the desperate seem destined to walk, and die alone.
In the half-light, two figures breakthrough branches and greenery, their appearance more alien than human. Their faces hidden behind gas masks, eyes darkened, voices muted. They’re dragging something. The withered body of an old man. He’s barely still breathing. They throw him into a freshly dug hole. They look at him remorsefully, his skins putrid, sickly, and covered in sores. His eyes black, venomous. Bubonic fluid dripping from his lips. One of the masked men douses him in petrol and sets him ablaze.
As they sit around the dinner table, Paul consoles Travis over the loss of his grandfather. He was sick, Paul says, he could have infected everyone. Paul lives by a brutally conservative code to ensure his family’s survival. But Travis isn’t entirely convinced; he’s more liberal-minded than his father. Sarah, Paul’s partner, just wishes their son didn’t have to participate in the killing, and tells Paul as much. Now it’s just the three of them. They’re living in seclusion in a forest, totally off the grid, hundreds of miles from the nearest town. It’s a suffocating existence behind boarded-up windows, with confined sleeping quarters and limited food supplies. They’re totally sheltered off from the world, but there’s no choice. There’s something in the air, a disease, a virus. It comes at night. There’s no antidote, no cure, no hope. They haven’t heard from the outside world since the outbreak, all they can do is survive, waiting for the rapture. Unless something comes for them first.
This is potent subjective filmmaking, which boldly brings the audience into an enclosed domestic war zone like no other. Shults and his cinematographer, Drew Daniels, use highly functional cinematography that’s bound to the soul of character and story. They succeed in creating a visual palette which is masterfully subtle, and that is felt rather than noticed. The visual style is further complemented by Brian McOmber’s score, which is an unnerving delight. The arrangements constantly create suspense and elevate the story, adding a heightened sense of spirituality and religiousness to it.
Joel Edgerton wields the fiercest performance of his career as Paul, the domineering patriarch. While in contrast, Kelvin Harrison Jr. brings a warmth and humility to Travis. And Carmen Ejogo dances frantically between love and fear with a raw maternal drive.
Trey Edward Shults carves out a claustrophobic, atmosphere to die for, inviting us straight into the heart of darkness, where law and order have broken down, and lawlessness, thievery and murder reign supreme. And in these desperate times, desperate people are driven to bloody mercilessness carnage. Often compromising the very values they pertain to support. At its core, the film harbours a pressing theme; if we’re too brutal, the cost is our humanity, but if we’re too idealistic we won’t survive, so what’s the cost of survival? The film seems to yearn for a rational balance between these two realities. Shults has crafted a beautifully intelligent psychological thriller, where the most monstrous and horrific thing is ourselves.
15A (See IFCO for details)
It Comes at Night is released 7th July 2017