The title alone would give a clear idea of the sort of mood that It Comes at Night would try to evoke, something that director Trey Edward Schultz had only successfully raised questions about from his own audiences with his new outing. But It Comes at Night isn’t so much a horror film, rather instead just something wearing the genre as a disguise for something smaller: maybe it could be within there something even more terrifying on the inside. The past few years have only proven themselves to be fantastic for the horror genre, and now with Trey Edward Schultz bringing out It Comes at Night, that’s perhaps all one needs in order to find a perfect experience with such a work, adding my own decision just to walk in blind – I’ve only avoided marketing and apparently after hearing about how misleading it was. What came by in It Comes at Night, what I can safely say, was yet another horror film adding to a streak of success that the genre has been encountering recently.
At its core, this is a film telling a story of survival after something unspecified has been making people sick. We keep our focus on a single family, headed by Joel Edgerton. Most of the film is confined around an area surrounding a single house which he occupies, but suddenly this peace which he has managed to find has been interrupted now that another family has come by. This other family seems to be perfectly fine, but skepticism has only found itself raising upon instincts that no one else can truly be trusted other than themselves especially during a dark time for humanity. This is the prime idea that It Comes at Night is riding on, but there’s a greater joy coming around just from how much it does with what seems to be so little.
The title only gives a hint for the mystery that comes by, because there’s no answer being given as for what “it” is. During the nighttime, we aren’t sure about what’s real and what’s not as we see visions from the son, Travis – begin to plague him. These recurring dreams all involve a death that came by as a result of the sickness, but the manner to which it contrasts with what happens in the daytime only finds itself forming an inner paranoia regarding what exactly is set to come forth for everyone. The title only leaves out the most vague of hints, because all we know about “it” is that it is dangerous. But on the count that it keeps “it” ambiguous the whole way through, what came forth was an expertise in forming suspense on director Trey Edward Schultz’s end, especially given the film’s setting at a time for humanity’s own survival.
“It” is really just a tease, but it only comes about in the best sense. “It” can be anything, but the fact that Schultz never makes it explicit is where It Comes at Night has found itself lingering in the mind. We’re sitting there wondering what exactly “it” is, but we know it’s central to the paranoia of its lead characters. Observe Joel Edgerton’s character and his constant need to keep safe especially during such a distressful time for humanity, but the whole construct around what “it” could possibly be leaves something inside of the head and there’s no definition for “it.” “It” could be something so small and can go unnoticed, or “it” can be bigger and more explicitly destructive. Schultz has a keen eye for capturing the paranoia of the unknown with It Comes at Night, and he doesn’t exploit it for the sake of making a film that explicitly feels like a horror film in its own confines, but because of its setting it becomes unnerving.
If anything were set to become a takeaway, though, I can’t help but feel like there’s a good amount of It Comes at Night that plays out without feeling wholly original. Schultz does the very best at establishing an overall tone given what he makes of the setting and the actors, but I can’t shake the feeling that this isn’t so much different from any other story made within a survival setting. Plot developments don’t end up feeling nearly half as rewarding because of some painfully obvious foreshadowing (Travis’s eventual fate I figured was going to come within many of the nighttime sequences rather fast), but I still like the fact that Schultz indeed plays back upon ambiguity to find an inner strength within It Comes at Night. Within the film’s fairly short length, certain character arcs don’t find themselves fully realized (the second family comes to mind), but it’s easy to roll along with it.
What at least solidifies the strength of It Comes at Night, however, comes clear within the film’s closing scene – one that only increases a feeling of paranoia because of how much is left unknown. But that’s where one’s greatest fears lie within, because of the fact that there is no definite. It Comes at Night may not be something completely original but to finally see something that adheres to what truly has made horror work as perfectly as it does was certainly something pleasing. It knows perfectly how to build up a sense of paranoia because of who’s established as who can and cannot be trusted, but perhaps I was also looking for a greater sense to latch onto whose story was being told here. But I think it’s rather safe to say that I’m going on the lookout for whatever comes next under writer-director Trey Edward Schultz’s belt, because he has a lot more ahead of him.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via A24.
Directed by Trey Edward Schultz
Screenplay by Trey Edward Schultz
Produced by David Kaplan, Andrea Roa
Starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 91 minutes