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It Comes At Night
USA 2017
Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Running time 92 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Synopsis:  Paul  (Joel Edgerton) is holed up with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their 17-year old son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), in a house deep in the woods where they are hiding from some unspecified fatal pandemic when a lone man, Will (Christopher Abbott), breaks in, thinking the place is abandoned.  Paul agrees to help Will by allowing Will’s wife, Kim (Riley Keough), and their son stay with them.  But can Paul trust Will and are there more desperate people out there in the woods?

I wouldn’t normally go to a horror film but as this one stars Joel Edgerton (he also executive produced) whose C.V. is an impressive one I thought I’d give it a shot. Fortunately Edgerton delivers.

Despite being indebted to the cabin-in-the-woods and the plague-survivor horror sub-genres It Comes at Night has at its heart a substantial idea – the question of what holds us together when normal social ties are destroyed. Yes, there are a few standard-issue horror strategies with things going bang in the night and characters vomiting bloody bile but for the most part writer/director Trey Edward Shults in his second feature concentrates on creating a mood of fear and letting the drama play out within it. Aided, almost needless to say, by the foreboding music of Brian McOmber, he makes excellent use of the settings, a boarded-up, creaking cabin and the dark woods surrounding it, to amp up the sense of the character’s vulnerability. The resulting psychological naturalism is the film’s strong card making it a contender for the general viewer where the typical genre fright-fest would not be.  

Nevertheless one can’t help but feel that Shults with his attention divided this way, hasn’t quite brought matters to a boil. Whilst refusing to indulge in cheap scares there are often times when the film seems to be just marking time waiting for the next big shock, but on the other hand he tends to over-use the familiar “it-was-just-a-dream” device to keep up the quota of familiar genre tropes. More problematically, this titivation tends to come at the cost of character development. Paul is well-drawn and Edgerton, who recently impressed in Loving (coincidentally also playing the husband in a mixed race marriage), gives a commanding performance but Will is a less substantial figure and Abbott too bland to provide an effective counterweight to Edgerton's intensity.  The women are largely background figures and although Harrison has a more prominent part than them it doesn’t amount to much in practical terms. This, added somewhat ironically to the fact that he actually looks like Ejogo,doesn’t help in creating the inter-personal tensions that Shults sketches in but doesn't develop.  Because of this, the final shot doesn't carry the emotional impact it aspires to

If It Comes at Night doesn't fully realise its potential, connoisseurs of the horror genre, at least in its psychological guise should nonetheless find it a worthy drop.  

 

 

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