It Comes at Night, 2017

© A24


This review may have spoilers

Smart, medically-paranoid, taut, complex and intensely mysterious and cruel, It Comes at Night does not yield to the conventions of its peers as Joel Edgerton (Paul) and Christopher Abbott, as Will navigate (in performances that are top-notch) through the atmosphere dripping with dread for its entire run time, A duration where it proves, yet again, like many similar outings, that run without frills and leave the acumen of the ocular unseen, making it as horrifying as anything that may have scared us in the past. Declaring yet again that what you leave unseen is way more effective than what is shown; leaving the monster to the capricious (by now) sensitivity of the audience, leaving them exhilarated by the time the whole deal has come to a shattered devastating end. A risque conclusion to a survivalist narrative, where Director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha, 2015 – a short), simply refuses to tell, letting the character’s emotions to the job, resulting in a forebodingly stern outcome or consequences or whatever it is in the woods that’s making them infected – but with what?

Additionally, the villains here are the emotional reflexes associated with grief, loss, despondency, suspicion, and misdoubt. Director Trey Edward does not get into the nitty-gritty of the enormity of the holocaust-type event that happened before the film started, alternately, he and his team of extremely talented filmmakers keep their focus and film equipment on the trajectory of a young man’s life, which is changed forever as the film progresses towards a tormenting end; despite the absence of the slow-walking dead, basements (well, the whole boarded cottage is a basement), monsters or old hags in the deep recesses of the forests inviting little children, enticing them with a table full of food, good, alluring provision (Gretel & Hansel, 2020).

Prohibition, curfew, disease, a stranger in the forest, what would you do if faced with similar circumstances. Shults does not throw the entire screenplay at us (most directors don’t), instead, he construes information very carefully, in the confines of the stygian forest and the cottage where most of the action takes place. The extremely real fear and distress of getting infected, by something, which is unknown and cannot be seen, again, leaving it to the ingenuity in the keen viewer’s awareness that is shaped by how the performers react to each step taken by an intruder, the desiccant rustling of leaves being stepped on or on a jagged small branch that penetrates the dermal layer of the senses and not the skin. Just like how Will is turning out to be. Mistrust and paranoia are building throughout the tightly drawn narrative, even when Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) has let go of some of her suspicions, and odds-on being able to defend themselves with more people, a predisposed notion, which no one can be sure of. That uncertainty is part of the horror that Trey Edward and cinematographer Drew Daniels (Waves, 2019) construct for the families to react against.

Then there’s Stanley the dog. The presence of animals in films is to give the owners a sixth sense. Here Stanley runs out, barking aggressively at something that the keen viewer cannot see; as soon as the door opens (which it hardly does during the runtime). We all know what happens the next day when the pet returns or is hanging by the tool shed, dead as a doornail, and gutted in some cases (Secret Window, 2004), and mangled. This is the peak of atmospheric horror rarely seen in the genre films these days. Here, in Night, captivating visuals are created with in-scene light sources by cinematographer Daniels; the source of light is one of the most difficult ways to elucidate the plot trappings, by way of a lantern, the glare of a flashlight. They build an almost tangible world where the brooding ambiance can be felt through every pore in the body. This way the filmmakers do not attract attention to the set-pieces but create tension, which is thick as thieves, it implicates the viewer by adding to the anxiety and also by way of sound design by Kris Fenske, Robert Hein, and their team of some twenty-one sound technicians, creating dread and trepidation and then they go ahead and crank the horror of the unknown all the way to eleven.

Image courtesy © A24

The direction by Trey Edward Shults is spine-chillingly, self-assured, and he has made a formidable film, a film that plays in reverse, the distrust, and paranoia, which truly makes the keen viewer shift in his seat. This is a ferocious addition to the survival horror genre, and does not shy away from using children as victims (The House That Jack Built, 2018 & Antichrist, 2009, both films are by the mad scientist, the non-conformist, the depressive, alcoholic, Lars von Trier), and neither does he hesitate to adjust the aspect-ratio (dream sequence) as he directs his second feature-length film, where the title pounces at the viewers in foul repugnance, making the keen viewer very uncomfortable and leaving him/her unnerved, disturbed, even perhaps intoxicated by way of their own inference and sneaking suspicion.

Apocalyptic, inevitable, unreasonably reasonable, with contemptible discretion and the will to survive seething from everyone on camera. It Comes at Night is an impressive and imposing film in these times of the mighty SFX, which is not a bad thing, but sometimes short and (very bitter)-sweet are more effective than an extravagant display of the abundance from a big production house. Sometimes the threat that a forged relationship presents is greater than many of those shown on-screen. It is an irony that works if conceived and constructed with the kind of care shown here.
With much of humanity wiped out, but not like how Danny Boyle or George A. Romero would have it, no; this is working on a minimalist scale, leaving most of the terror, the scares to the audience’s contrivance, where it inevitably takes shape of a monster that is different in shape and form on every seat in the cinema; playing with the emotions of its viewers as much as it reigns the traditional horror tropes, all along scaring the audience from the inside rather than the outside, identical to the templates set by George A. Romero, John Carpenter, and Stanley Kubrick, templates without a traditional villain.

Night is also a straight-arrow thriller, it is emotionally raw and begins with a suicide, seen through the tormented eyes of its stellar cast living in a world ravaged by a horrible disease, leaving survivors scrounging for food and trusting no one. It is also a film with its subtle share of jump scares, which do not come across as jump scares but part of the human psyche working overtime.

Impressive for a sophomore feature and a definite must-watch.

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