It Comes At Night: NZIFF Review
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Balancing tension, claustrophobia and paranoia in equal measures, Trey Edward Shults' film It Comes At Night is a chamber piece for the doomsday preppers among you.
Opening with an old man struggling to breathe before he's put in a wheelbarrow and unceremoniously rolled out by gas-masked unknowns, accompanied by a red jerry can and a gun, It Comes At Night goes for the gut-wrenching right away, a veritable sucker punch to the "This could be any of you" ethos that punctuates its survivalist core.
Revealing the gas mask wearers to be a family, headed up by patriarch Paul (Joel Edgerton, bearded and downbeat), It Comes At Night zeroes in on their isolation in a house in the woods. With his wife (Ejogo) and son Travis (Harrison Jr) in tow, Paul's family unit is embedded into this post-apocalyptic world.
But when Christopher Abbot's desperate Will breaks in to their house one night, seemingly searching for supplies for his wife and child, a ticking time bomb of suspicion and mistrust is placed within this tight-knit unit.
And things are further exacerbated when Will brings his brood back to the house....
Less an outright horror, more a creeping insidious terror, It Comes At Night is perhaps more a psychological experience than a full-on fright fest.
It helps that surrendering to Shults' rhythms is the way to settle into this sedately-paced film that lies on soundtrack and palpable tension to ratchet things up. With claustrophobic close-ups and wide shots of corridors and an ominous red door in and out of the house, the dread is easily created early on.
Shults uses his weary-looking cast to ramp up an atmosphere of unease that's as menacing as it is frustrating, though an over-reliance on differently aspect-ratioed dream sequences involving Travis' night terrors punctuate way too much of this film as it unfolds.
Bleak and desolate it may be, while relying on the hoary trope of the unseen menace within the woods and that's always at arms-length, It Comes At Night uses its sparing sense of fear to reasonably terrifying effect. Dialogue propels great amounts of the implied ambiguity within as the survivalist nightmare reaches to a crescendo.
It's not exactly the kind of film which is going to leave many feeling bright and breezy, though with the reminder of a constant fear from the Doomsday Clock edging ever closer to midnight in these current climes maybe informing the NZIFF's desire to programme this, it does seem scarily prescient.
Abbott and Edgerton make for uneasy bedfellows as Will and Paul, and Travis' mixing of sexual awakening with a creeping sense of voyeurism at the new family (in particular, the wife played by The Girlfriend Experience's Riley Keough) proving to be a heady mix of uncertainty, there's more than enough to creep out those watching.
Fundamentally slow (despite its brevity and 90 minutes run time) and distinctly unsettling, It Comes At Night may prove to be a polarising film festival experience, but its quietly devastating voyage is deep-rooted in singularly human basic instincts - and is all the more terrifying for it.