Troy Edward Shults made an impact last year with his debut feature Krisha, a family drama inspired by a member of his own family. Krisha made it onto the neverending list of films I missed, but I heard so much praise that I knew one thing for sure. Keep an eye and ear out for Trey Edward Shults.
So when A24 announced they were re-teaming with him to distribute his next film, and it being a horror film, I immediately put it on my watchlist.
Having been aware that his first film is a family drama so finding out his follow-up was a “horror” film [by A24, who don’t typically do simplistic horror (see also: The VVitch and Green Room)], I knew this would be the same. Shults says in an interview describing it that “it’s not a monster movie. It’s about people.” It Comes At Night is about the characters and the families first. And it’s better for it, this time we care for everyone.
It Comes At Night is absolutely terrifying. The camera rarely stays still, it’s in constant motion, and if it’s not moving we are in an unbroken take standing in the middle of an important conversation. The camera is as much as a character in this narrative as everyone else. The camera and Travis (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) are our surrogates into this new world that Shults has created.
Shults has explained that he had not had a good relationship with his father, and essentially cut the relationship. About ten years later, he heard from him and found out he had pancreatic cancer. Shults went to see him on his death bed and helped him try and find peace before he left. That experience inspired the opening traumatic scene where Carmen Ejogo’s character Sarah must say goodbye to her father. That scene led to the rest of the film. It’s that personal experience that starts the film leaks into the rest of the film, and for the whole run time, it feels as if you’re hearing about some of the most painful stories someone can tell.
As I’ve mentioned, it is not a typical horror film, it is bleaker and almost nihilistic in nature, there is so much pain found in this film. The constant moving camera and the percussion-based score make the film propulsive and relentless. The tension never stops growing, it is under nose boiling at all times, no matter if we are outdoors or safe in our own home. Paranoia is at an all-time high with this much tension in the air. And you feel it because you can never truly get a read on the outsider’s intentions.
The performances help sell the reality of the situation, they are so exceptionally strong. The star is Travis, who is so kind, sweet, and quiet. Through him, we see the unjust issues to his current upbringing. Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott also give powerful performances as well. Our surrogate smiles and laughs, and we do as well. But when he is frightened, we are very much with him.
The film also expertly uses darkness, we constantly get point of view shots with a small light showing us a small area around us. We get a film that uses elements of survival horror games (Resident Evil 7, and it’s VR iteration come to mind). We wonder what danger is out there in the woods, but what danger is with us as well.
It’s explosive, not in terms of scale but in terms of emotions. The movie came to an end and rest of the theatre easily and quickly left the cinema, but I felt glued wondering how long the ending will stick with me because there are many powerful moments in this film.
As someone who is nyctophobic, I was on the edge of my seat for the majority of the run time, anticipating and just left wondering what unknown was lurking in the darkness that ruled over the massive frame.