While Universal Pictures spends this opening weekend toying with horror fans hopeful for a classic horror rebirth with The Mummy, which is instead one of the year's worst films, those fine folks over at growing indie distributor A24 are showing up with one of the year's best horror entries, the second film from writer/director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha), It Comes at Night.
It Comes at Night, a film that not only proves that Shults is no one-hit wonder but also proves that Joel Edgerton's Academy Award nomination for Loving was incredibly well deserved. Shults's Krisha was an ultra-low budget masterpiece, a film starring mostly family members and delving into his own family history to tell a remarkably intimate and jarring story that likely hit home for a whole lot of us with more dysfunctional holiday memories than picture perfect postcard ones. It Comes at Night also centers around family. There's Paul (Edgerton), the head of the household with wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) along with Sarah's father (David Pendleton), though the minute we lay eyes on the father we know that he's not long for this world and whatever plague has landed upon it.
Sure enough, before long Sarah's father has left the picture with the distinct possibility that how it all unfolds signaled life to a certain someone out there, Will (Christopher Abbott), who arrives at the secluded household claiming a wife (Riley Keough), a small child and an abundance of food. Partly out of compassion and partly out of loneliness, Paul takes in the wayward family but, of course, in the midst of tragedy nothing this simple is ever going to be this smooth.
It Comes at Night is the kind of film where it's best to leave it all as undescribed as possible because this is a film where the horrors are less about what you see and much more about what you feel crawling up your spine as the story unfolds.
Trust me, you'll feel it.
Horror seems like an odd genre for Shults to tackle for his sophomore effort, an original filmmaker tackling a genre where so much that is served up is merely another twist on a familiar formula. To his credit, Shults avoids easy answers and paint-by-numbers explanations. He gives his audience just as much as they need to know, occasionally revealing more and occasionally allowing our minds to wander as far as our minds can wander.
Edgerton's Paul is nearly the polar opposite of Edgerton's Loving performance, a fact that reminds you that Edgerton's acclaimed performance was a whole lot more acting than he was given credit for serving up. Paul possesses an easily provoked paranoia, an almost nuclear anxiety triggered by monsters both real and imagined. Carmen Ejogo's performance as Sarah is softer and more compassionate, a woman grieving yet also a woman who serves to balance out the household. Kelvin Harrison, Jr. may very well give the film's best performance, a layered complexity simultaneously both a dream and nightmare. As the couple welcomed into the home, Riley Keough gives one of her best performances as the tense, smoldering Kim while Christopher Abbott's Will has a quiet menace about him that keeps you on edge and constantly wondering. Given less to do as Kim and Will's young son Andrew, Griffin Robert Faulkner more than holds his own.
While it's rewarding to see what Shults can do with a decent budget, It Comes at Night isn't quite as electrifying an experience as was Krisha if only because the film is inevitably bound by certain genre restraints and limitations. Shults does a tremendous job of transcending these restraints, but they're still present and one can't help but wish he'd gone a little more freestyle with the entire project.
But, then again. I really, really enjoyed this flick in a really, really disturbing way.
It Comes at Night isn't so much a traditional horror flick, though it's certainly horrifying it also ends in such a way that will satisfy some and devastatingly disappoint others.
That's life...on the big screen and in the audience. It's intentional, that much is obvious, and whether you like it or not it's immensely effective.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic