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FILM REVIEW: IT COMES AT NIGHT Scares The Nightmares Out of You

FILM REVIEW: IT COMES AT NIGHT Scares The Nightmares Out of You

A red door, a gasping old man, dramatic fires, and wistful disturbing dreams full of blood and twisted gore all adorn the darkened landscape of the new psychological horror flick It Comes At Night. By award-winning filmmaker Trey Edward Shults (who debuted in 2015 with the movie Krisha), the film follows a teenager, Travis, played with eerie precision by Kelvin Harrison Jr. from The Birth of a Nation, as he deals with the horrors of a post-apocalyptic world.

Travis and his parents—played with equally stunning ferocity by Joel Edgerton (Loving) and Carmen Ejogo (Selma, Alien: Covenant)—are holed up in a seemingly safe cabin in the woods following an unspecified epidemic that has made the world a scarier place than it normally is. They wear masks and gloves to protect against a disease so infectious it requires them to off one of their own in the opening, traumatic sequences of the picture. They also have to fend, of course, with the terrors that may lie outside their walls, particularly at night. But it is the danger that lies within that the movie is most engaged.

The first threat that materializes comes in the form of a young man, Will (James White’s Christopher Abbott), searching for refuge and supplies for his wife and son. The expected tensions between the protective patriarch and the unknowable stranger playout, if somewhat predictably as they always do in zombie worlds.

What is unexpected, however, is what form exactly the terror that “comes at night” will take. The focus soon turns inward—figuratively and literally—as the scares come mostly from within the house, and within the soul.

It Comes At Night is really a human drama, where the scariest demons are those we hide but escape when survival is at stake. Though not particularly insightful, the film is nonetheless quite effective at believably showing us just how terrifying our baser instincts can be. Thus, as Travis is forced to reckon with his increasingly disturbing nightmares, he is also thrust in the middle of growing and unmitigated evil that he helplessly observes.

And although, it bears repeating, none of the treaded ground is particularly breaking new space, the film nevertheless fires on all of its other cylinders. Most notable is Edward Shults’ meticulous and careful directing, with a roving camera that knows when to close in, when to pan out, when to stumble and stagger. It is enough to keep you off balance and comtinuously tense without overdoing it.

He is also lifted by a talented tech crew, utilizing most notably the ultra-modern sounds of Brian McComber, who has taken pages out of the book of in-your-ears, loud-as-drums beats that have permeated movies like Jackie and even the recent Alien to much success. Here, the soundtrack is a character in its own right, adding heavy stress to the already didficult developments.

Last but not least of course are the exacting performances by all involved, realistic in their trauma, disarming in their charm. What a difference one movie makes, for the last time Joel Edgerton played the male in an interracial couple (Loving), let’s just say he was a tad more subdued.

At the center of all this are Travis’ aforementioned dreams, and Harrison Jr.’s performance becomes crucial. The story seamlessly weaves in and out of consciousness, and even though you come to expect that the next horror sequence may in fact be a dream, it makes it no less spooky. Certainly not when, in real life, things begin to spiral out of Travis’ control but in ways that he may be arguably responsible for. The closing sequences of the film, again, certainly not earth shattering, are still quite effective and suspenseful.

It Comes at Night is best understood as a synthesis of a number of known quantities—from The Blair Witch Project to 28 Days Later and even Signs. In some ways, however, it improves on the the amalgam of these films, with its deep understanding of the inherent evil in humanity and its thoughtful approach to the art of horror. Though making allusions to nighttime, it is clear that the film’s outlook on the depths of the human soul are as dark when the day is bright.

It Comes at Night will hit theaters on June 9, 2017.

Grade: B+

About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online, has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age, and has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film 'The Lost Weekend' is pure coincidence

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