Though not intended as such at the time, Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night has taken on a different weight in the post-pandemic world. Originally released in 2017, Shults’ sophomore feature is a study in the anxieties and losses one family weathers whilst trying to survive a viral apocalypse.
In Shults’ film, an unexplained pandemic has ravaged the world leaving Paul (Joel Edgerton – The Gift) his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) confined to an isolated woodland lodge. With the arrival of another family, tensions and cracks begin to appear in Paul’s world.
Perhaps the issue is that the film is marketed as a horror film when it never really is. Shults’ isn’t really trying to horrify; he’s trying to paint a picture of a youth lost. The audience is either seeing the world through the anxious eyes of Edgerton’s patriarch or sympathising with his 17-year-old son Travis whose sweeter years have disappeared with civilisation. With the arrival of other survivors Will (Christopher Abbott – Piercing) and Kim, Travis finds fulfilment for his longings, listening to their intimacies and living vicariously through their warmth. With this warmth comes a flip side, a wedge is driven between him and his father and soon nightmares of infection and sexual awakening plague the already troubled nights. The seemingly sprawling log den where they live appear almost labyrinthine by lamplight, an endless maze of shadows and potential horrors.
For much of the film, Edgerton’s particularly resolute portrayal of a man on the edge almost has you wondering if there’s really a viral issue at all. Is there truly a dangerous infection out there or is this a story about sheer unbridled paranoia? Unfortunately, there are no twists. It is what it is. A sort of paranoid kitchen sink drama flirting with the trappings of a horror film and finishing with a dour depressing reset.
The core issue with Shults’s moody minimal thriller is that it’s not interesting enough to really grip. It doesn’t invest in the anxiety of either its apocalypse or its tense social dynamics. It’s a shame because Edgerton is on typically top form and the set-up is rife with potential.
Dir. Trey Edward Shults
Stars. Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough