Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writer: Trey Edward Shults (screenplay)
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo
I’ve never watched Krisha, the debut feature film from director Trey Edwards Shults. By all accounts, it was a sparkling debut that seemed to excel in creating real suspense and tension out of the mundaneness of a Thanksgiving dinner. In his second venture, It Comes At Night, he appears to be attempting that self same formula albeit this time in the more traditional horror genre.
And that’s my first issue with this film. It’s not actually a horror film. It’s not even close to being a horror film in fact. It’s more a psychological mystery film with some horror components added. Sure, it follows in the well trodden footsteps of similar set films that I’ve watched within the last couple of years. Such as Hush, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room and The Witch. It has the same isolated, shut in, claustrophobic setting and a fairly small cast to boot, but it’s not on the same level of any of those films and it never really follows through with the promise of the opening scene or fifteen minutes for me.
That opening scene incidentally involves the brutal assassination of a feverishly ill looking, elderly man, afflicted with a mysterious illness. A man who’s then thrown into a shallow grave and burnt immediately. His identity as grandfather of the family is revealed during this time, and if nothing else, it certainly sets up the brutal nature of the world, the necessary rules put in place to continue an uneasy existence and the extreme behaviour that it seems to drive our survivors into committing.
No, It Comes At Night essentially revolves around two families forced to cohabitate for a common purpose. I.e. Strength in numbers and survival. It shirks the more conventional choice of the aforementioned ‘proper’ horrors and instead focuses on the deeply ingrained paranoia, mostly about what’s in the woods outside and also the thinly disguised animosity that grows between the two groups.
The first of which consists of Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), Travis (Kelvin Harris Jnr) and a bedraggled looking family dog. They’re the actual residents of the property in which the film takes place and have taken a fondness for wearing gas masks, scrubbing themselves and boarding up every conceivable opening. The second is headed by Will (Christopher Abbott) who stumbles onto their land and into their house early on in proceedings. His hippy-esque wife Kim (Riley Keogh) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Faulkner) soon join the others, although not before some mild torture and an unexpected tense shootout with a lone bandit.
I don’t want to give too much away about the plot because it’s a short film and to do so would spoil it. I didn’t overly enjoy it myself, but I understand that films are deeply subjective and that’s no excuse to ruin it for others. All I’ll say is that tensions inevitably grow between the two, a problem only exacerbated by a strange, attic snooping Travis, who displayed mild signs of autism at best and severe PTS from the stress of the isolation and/or loss of his grandfather at worst. Most of the film seemed to centre on his character; the strange, reoccurring dreams of red doors, blood pouring from mouths that he had night after night and his ingrained fear of catching the mysterious disease.
The impressive acting performances from Edgerton, Harris Jnr, Keogh and clever use of the deliberately compartmentalised house setting to ramp up claustrophobic tension are the two positives I took away from this film. Ultimately though, I felt it tried too hard to be clever and couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I think the prevailing theme here was to show the extremes humanity can be driven to by paranoia and/or extreme fear, which meant there was never any sign of an actual threat. The ending was a textbook, telegraphed twist and just felt bland and banal. A fairly average experience, all things considered.
Honestly, unless you’ve got nothing better to watch then I wouldn’t be recommending it.