“It Comes At Night” is a stealthy, ravenous beast, but the menacing picture doesn’t pounce until it means to feast. Its teeth are sharp and its bite will scar, but the light is scarce and you’ll only see its bloodshot eyes the very moment you’re devoured by its all-consuming, wholly frightening lunge. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults‘ (“Krisha“) sophomore feature is a triumph in measured suspense and chilling attention to detail. It’s a harrowing, horrifying effort told with brute conviction, a quivering meditation on grief and alienation haunts you to the brittle bone.
We open with the sickly eyes of Bud (David Pendleton), the infected father of Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and grandfather of 17-year-old Travis (a remarkable Kelvin Harrison Jr.), staring distantly and emptily into the unknown distance. The disease that he’s afflicted with isn’t known by name, yet it’s one that’s unmistakably devastating, having brutally stripped humanity cold from the earth. Living alone in the woods with his family, father figure Paul (an appropriately weathered Joel Edgerton) does everything in his power to keep his loved ones alive as long as possible. Is life worth living if it cannot be lived at all? That’s the type of question Paul won’t ask himself. Eradicating Bud and burning his corpse for good measure, Paul is a survivor, not a ponderer. Survival is his primary concern.
Which is why Paul doesn’t hesitate to strike when a mysterious, unknown intruder breaks into his house late one night. Tying him up in the woods, shirtless and duct taped, Paul returns one day later to discover his uninfected housebreaker is Will (the continuously excellent Christopher Abbott), a family man with a wife and child left without water. He’ll trade food for what he needs. He’ll do whatever it takes to keep his family alive. Like Paul, Will just wants what’s best for those he cares about. Paul isn’t entirely convinced but, with his own resources limited, he’ll need to learn to trust him. At first, Will is true to his word. His wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) are welcome guests and helping hands in their meager attempt at living as a makeshift family with Paul, Sarah, Travis and his dog, Stanley. But when a mysterious attack leaves their alliances in question, nobody is left unscratched.
Effectively anxious and invigoratingly terrifying, “It Comes At Night” is an unforgiving, unrelenting yet unmistakably human endeavor, filled with intimacy and intensity in equal measures. Crafted with precision, Shults’ supremely confident, deftly handled claustrophobic nightmare of a film wisely knows the power of true horror comes from both the unknown and anything we take for granted. It’s those we trust that often hurt us; it’s those that mean well that often pierce us. Shults’ film is brutal and bleak, but in its simple, engrossing execution, it’s quite exceptionally brilliant.
From Drew Daniels‘ impeccable cinematography to Shults and Matthew Hannam‘s pristine editing to Brian McOmber‘s petrifying score to the very fine work of its impressive, tightly-wound cast, there’s nary a weak link in “It Comes At Night” on both sides of the camera. Expertly handled and intelligently subdued, it’s a slow-burning chamber thriller that — not unlike A24‘s other highly-exceptional horror “The Witch” — might not earn the wholehearted respect of a wide audience. But to not appreciate the intricacies and skillfulness on display is to be robbed of its delicate calculation.
Those expecting cheap jump scares should, of course, seek thrills elsewhere; “It Comes At Night” knowingly uses the moodiness of its single location and the uneasy enchantment of its unknown surroundings to its fullest advantage, creating an entirely convicting horror film in the truest and boldest sense. Shults intends to shake you, not to rattle you ceaselessly. Never afraid to show off its bloody fangs, yet careful to cut beyond the skin before its savage, stirring final strike, “It Comes At Night” is a remarkable, terror-filled invasion. [A-]