Review: ‘It Comes At Night’ is an Unsettling Study of Fear

There are many things to fear in the dark and paranoid world of ‘It Comes at Night’, but ultimately the movie serves as a rather fresh and terrifying study of fear itself.

What’s behind the red door?

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Imagine you and your family find yourselves in an isolated, post-apocalyptic setting – one in which you’re trying your best to maintain some semblance of a normal life, but in which fear (of death, of loss, of the unknown) is ever-present, hanging over everyone and everything like a thick cloud of smoke. Who would you trust? Who should you trust? What lengths would you go to in order to survive?

The central characters in Trey Edward Shults‘ smart, scary, psychological horror-thriller It Comes At Night find themselves in such a scenario, and the results are both mesmerizing and deeply unsettling.

Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) are survivors of a mysterious plague of unknown origin and extent. They’ve closed up their lives in such as way as to try and protect themselves from loss and harm, but when a mysterious family (Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner) enters their lives, the fragile ecosystem of their existence is thrown off balance, putting all at risk.

It Comes At Night is A24‘s (The Witch, Under The Skin) latest release, but writer-director Trey Edward Shults deserves credit for crafting a minimalistic yet tensely woven, atmospheric and engaging post-apocalyptic fairy-tale of sorts. It’s one that makes the audience work for its supper – building a sense of lingering unease and paranoia by never quite revealing or explaining as much as it could any given time and blurring the lines between nightmare and reality. Compelling performances from a terrific cast help with the effect – we, like the characters in the film, never really quite know who or what to trust, all the way up to the (bleak) ending which left this reviewer feeling a bit shaken even after the movie was over.

It Comes At Night is not a horror film that hits you in the face with jump scares, buckets of blood, or big special effects. Instead, it crawls under your skin by examining the inner mechanisms of the human psyche in reaction to stressors such as grief, loss, paranoia, and fear.

There are many things to fear in the darkly paranoid world of It Comes At Night, but ultimately it’s a creeper of a film that serves as a rather fresh and terrifying study of fear itself.

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