Occurring shortly after the events of a seemingly near-catastrophic plague, It Comes at Night follows a family residing in an isolated home, buried deep in the woods. Joel Edgerton’s Paul is a devout provider, guiding his wife and son, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), through the complications and specificities of surviving an annihilation of sorts, the root cause of which is left undisclosed. Precautions must be taken and every interaction must be calculated down to the tiniest detail. It’s a world now ruled by preparedness.
Assuming Paul’s quietly guarded home is abandoned, family man Will (Christopher Abbott) attempts to break in and acquire any remaining supplies for his own wife and young child. After a short stand-off, an understanding forms between the warring factions, both groups banding together to establish a united front. Can it sustain emerging doubt?
The opening minutes of writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ blistering commentary on fear and paranoia firmly illustrates Shults’ take on the human condition, and if you look around in this day and age, it’s fairly timely. We often are the first to stand up and be counted for our humanity and efforts to fight for our rights or livelihood, but when is it too far? What if it is not a sense of self-preservation guiding our actions, but rather that nagging suspicion that someone, or something, is out to get us?
It Comes at Night has an armory of talent in its favor. Joel Edgerton is an established chameleon at this point in his career, overseeing an Egyptian rule in one film while tossing out a backwoods Walter White in the next. Edgerton is the glue that holds this film together, and not a minute goes by that his presence is unappreciated. In fact, the entirety of the cast – led by Edgerton – is full of actors that elevate the material to a film that could almost exist completely without a script.
Unfortunately, that almost matters more than Shults anticipated.
It Comes at Night has an intriguing idea behind it: skip the post-apocalyptic details and let’s focus on how mankind would react to each other on an instinctual level. How our own desire to live would overrule our basic human decency. It’s a novel concept that required a deeper script. As our characters meander aimlessly, silently pontificating on “what is out there” or “can they be trusted”, little else is elaborated on as to why we should continue to care as these proceedings ramble on. The actors are engaging, yet the characters as written rarely have anything more to do than look longingly out a window, awake from yet another meaningless dream sequence, or toss a side-eye to cast doubt elsewhere.
The themes and ideas within the film are harrowing, almost bold, and the concept of ignoring the devil in the woods and instead focusing on the evil within ourselves is a riveting premise. It simply comes up strikingly short on execution. With a cast of talented actors and several tense moments, It Comes at Night had the potential to grow into something special. Instead, we are left underwhelmed as we await its inevitable arrival. One which, sadly, never comes.
Starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo
Written by Trey Edward Shults
Directed by Trey Edward Shults