Friday, June 09, 2017

It Comes at Night will Keep You on the Edge of Your Seat: A Film Review

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Director/writer: Trey Edward Shults.

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough and Kelvin Harrison Jr.

It Comes at Night is a film from director and writer Trey Edward Shults (Krisha, 2015). Developed after the loss of his father, the film is an exercise in catharsis for both the filmmaker and viewer. Currently in Canadian theatres thanks to Mongrel Media, It Comes at Night is a solid mystery and thriller, set in a dire post-apocalyptic scenario. An infection is constantly hounding one family. But, the external threat is never really shown onscreen, outside of a few sounds. Though, the protagonist does show some of the film's offscreen horror through dream imagery. These darker scenes and Shults' ability to keep some film elements hidden create the film's great tension and atmosphere. It Comes at Night will thrill horror and drama fans; go see it now!

The film's story centres on a small family of three. The initial scenes show Paul (Joel Edgerton) disposing of Travis' (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) grandfather, in a brutal way. Events only get worse from here. An intruder enters the home, at night. He may or may not be infected. But, he is definitely desperate for water. Paul, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and Travis agree to help. Though, being a Good Samaritan in Shults' film is not a good idea. Together, the two families wait out the infection, which is right at their door, until someone lets it in.

The film primarily builds its tension through what is not shown. An external threat, the infection, is only ever shown through the symptoms. These symptoms are similar to Ebola as blood pours out of every orifice. Bruises and lesions degrade the skin. Still, the only infected shown onscreen involve the central characters. The one time an infected person enters the film is near the third act. One infected, or a group of infected are just over another ridgeline. They can be heard, but never seen. This allows the viewer's imagination to fill in the blanks. And, if you are like this horror film fan, your imagination will fill in the gaps with the worst possible images. Shults amplifies the tension by focusing on the family drama and by not showing everything onscreen.

This viewer especially liked the use of the protagonist's unconscious. This showed Travis' deeper emotions. He is continually plagued with nightmares. The first dream sequence takes place after the death of his grandfather. He is confronted with this death, in a terrifying fashion (above). Some of Travis' dreams begin with, what Sigmund Freud would call, wish fulfilment. But again, they quickly devolve into something hideously frightening. Travis' unconscious is shown in one other way, his drawings. This central character draws what he thinks the infected look like and they appear monstrous. Something out of a child's nightmare, it looks as if Travis has not seen the roaming infected, as well. They are something of a caricature to him. This second, unconscious level allows viewers to see how Travis is perceiving this infected world, through some of his fears.

It Comes at Night is a very tense film. As stated, that tension is developed by what is not shown. But, it is also developed through the film score and action. The musical selections are consistently unsettling as drum beats pound frenetically. The soundtrack suits the tonal shifts onscreen. For instance, the beats increase during an ambush. And, they only increase as the film nears its exciting climax. Meanwhile, there is consistent action onscreen. The film begins with a disturbing interaction between Paul and the grandfather (David Pendleton). From here, there is a lot of conflict between the two families, living in the same house. Most of these action scenes involve gunplay or gunfire. Someone's life is almost always in jeopardy. There is very little room to breathe as the film moves from one action scene to the next.

It Comes at Night is currently in theatres across North America. In the United States, A24 is handling the film's theatrical launch. And, this is one film that horror and thriller fans will want to see on the big screen. Unfortunately at this critic's screening, there was hardly anyone there, in the afternoon. Hopefully, this indie title will reach a wide audience. Because, It Comes at Night consistently delivers lots of surprises and action. The tension is developed through a number of techniques, including: hiding the threat, sound design and conflict. Though tragic, It Comes at Night will allow most viewers to identify with the characters as this desperate scenario unfolds. It Comes at Night will also make you squirm in your seat as events take a more and more thrilling turn.

Overall: 7.5 out of 10.

Two clips for the film ("Bad Dreams" & "Never"): Two Clips for It Comes at Night on 28DLA

An interview with director Trey Edward Shults, at Slash Film: An Interview on the Film's Influences at Slash Film

It Comes at Night Story Details at Mongrel Media: It Comes at Night at Mongrel Media


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