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‘It Comes at Night’ is a Terror-Filled, Nightmarish Delight

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Average: 5 (1 vote)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Good horror films are difficult to find. Last year, we got the extremely satisfying horror film, “The Witch,” with breakout star Charlie the goat, AKA Black Phillip. Horror films that aren’t franchised cliches are hard to come by, but “It Comes at Night” delivers. The entire atmosphere is mysterious and foreboding. We go into this film blind as if we were stumbling through a forest at night. That is where we find the terrors, and ourselves.

Trey Edward Shults creates an intimate, atmospheric experience ripe with tension and fear. There is a clever minimalism to the film that creates suspense with nothing more than natural lighting, a forest, and our imaginations. Shults creates a steady, almost eerily meditative pace that not only unsettles us but keeps us in a perpetual state of alert by making every scene feel like it is the calm before the storm. His previous film, “Krisha,” followed much of the same approach as it creates an engrossing experience with little more than camera work, sound design, and character interactions. Both films opt to focus one character, often showing us the world through their perspective. In both cases, they are proven to be unreliable narrators, making us question everything they experience and witness. In “Krisha,” this technique made us sympathize with her character while making us hate her addiction. In this film, it adds a layer to the psychological warfare the film wages on the viewer, making us question what is real and what is imagined, and dreading the answer the entire way.

Something lurks in the darkness in ‘It Comes At Night’
Photo credit: A24

The drama in “It Comes At Night” is as heavily influenced by the surroundings as it is by the characters. Shults channels the horror masters of old when telling this tale, and it’s obvious, but also refreshing. Influences like George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” are present, especially since the majority of both films take place in a house. The difference is that “Night of the Living Dead” has clear monsters (zombies), “It Comes At Night” leaves that vague. Of course, that means that the focus is placed on developing the human characters and showing them turn into the monsters they fear. Very little about what happened around the world is revealed, which may alienate the average movie watcher. If you like being spoon-fed every detail and crave closure, this film is not for you. This film is an open-ended character study that shows how people react in a post-apocalyptic situation. There is no omnipotent character so we only know as much as the characters we are following.

The insidious part of the film comes in the depiction of monsters. Aside from a few human characterizations and a dream sequence or two, we never really know what’s going on in the world outside of the forest. As we are taken through the forest, our eyes and minds play tricks on us as we naturally look for things that aren’t there. The fear these scenes end up creating comes from within and from our own imagination as our own demons and fears come before us. The effect the film has on us is pervasive because it throws is until an unfamiliar element with little to no information. Shults respects our intelligence too much to feed us every detail. He would rather give us the little information the characters have and force us to confront our emotions and feelings like they are.

No one is immune from the horrors in ‘It Comes At Night’
Photo credit: A24

The visual elements (even the ones we create mentally) are only a part of the experience and not even the strongest. Every scene is set up to play on our fears of the unknown and of darkness. Even though that in itself is enough to make us scared, the aggressive sound design comes in to finish the job. The timing and sound levels are important in horror films, and essential part of this one. Every bit of music, noise and even silence is used expertly to create the perfect level of unease. The scenes can range from harmonic to atonal, or from deafening loudness to unnatural silence. The sounds of things as common as a gunshot is meant to be piercing and reverberate through the scene and through us.

The film’s character study feels authentic and believable and couldn’t have been pulled off with a lesser cast. Carmen Ejogo, Joel Edgerton and Kelvin Harrison Jr.have a great familial chemistry together, with Harrison Jr. stealing the spotlight as his character becomes the center of the stories intrigue. Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough create perfectly foils to the original family while remaining charming and mysterious. Their interactions are the guiding light of the film, propelling the story forward and creating the thick tension we experience throughout. Each person plays their part to perfection, giving their characters enough depth and personality for them to be believable people, but not clearly defined enough to where they lose their sense of mystique. In the end, the less we know, the better the film becomes. The real sense of danger doesn’t come from facing a familiar foe, but by trying to fight an unknown enemy that may or may not exist, or that might wear a familiar face.

Family is the only people you can trust (or is it?) in ‘It Comes At Night’
Photo credit: A24

“It Comes at Night” opened everywhere on June 9th. Featuring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough and Charlie the goat. Screenplay by Trey Edward Shults. Directed by Trey Edward Shults. Rated “R”

Jon Espino, film and video game critic, HollywoodChicago.com

Film & Video Game Critic

© 2016 Jon Espino, HollywoodChicago.com

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