While sleeping late one night, Paul (Joel Edgerton) is woken by a man attempting to break into his family’s house. After being subdued and checked for infection, the man says his name is Will (Cristopher Abbot) and that he thought the house was abandoned and was hoping to find supplies for his family inside. Will pleads with Paul to help his family, and reluctantly Paul agrees. He and his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) take in Will’s family, and slowly get to know one another as they live together. But the threat of infection from the outside world looms always over them, and when push comes to shove, can they trust anyone but family?
It Comes at Night reminds me a lot of last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. Like that film, It Comes at Night is a modest, quiet horror film which combines a vaguely apocalyptic setting, psychological horror, and lots of claustrophobia. The tension and fear of this movie comes not from monsters or serial killers, and even the mysterious disease is more of a plot device than anything else. Rather, the terror of this film comes from being trapped in a confined space with people you don’t know, and don’t trust. It’s an excellent depiction of the psychology of individuals in stressful, catastrophic situations, and how self-destructive behavior frequently results. And just like 10 Cloverfield Lane, the film makes sure to always keep the viewer guessing until the very end, never quite revealing all of its secrets.
A small film like this heavily relies on its characters, and all of the actors perform admirably. Edgerton provides the anchor of the film, while Ejogo provides an excellent foil in terms of personality, and the two possess good on-screen chemistry. Abbot also acts as a sort-of-foil and sort-of-antagonist once the trust between the two families starts to unravel. And the mostly-unknown Harrison Jr. gives a surprisingly strong role, matching the more veteran performers punch-for-punch. The cinematography is also great, expertly capitalizing on the tight, indoor spaces of the house to enhance the feeling of claustrophobia and isolation in order to increase tension.
Although it won’t satisfy those horror fans anxious for blood, guts, and lots of screaming, It Comes at Night is a perfect film who prefer more subtle horror. Focusing on trust and paranoia, it is the first psychological horror film of the year. If you’re up for a (quiet) scare this weekend, than you can’t go wrong with A24’s most recent gem.