Shults’ Impresses with Disturbing “It Happens At Night”
A24 Films may be promoting Trey Edwards Shults It Comes at Night as another apocalyptic, zombie feature, but there’s far more that lurks beneath its dark surface. Concentrating on the corrosive power fear has over us and the most base elements of human nature, the film is more an examination of the monsters we become under extreme circumstances, a harsh mirror held up before the audience forcing them to contemplate what makes us all tick. That Shults proves a master at creating an atmosphere of dread as well as wire-taut tension makes up for certain lapses in the film’s logic.
Time and place are kept purposely vague, yet the viewer quickly comes to find out that some sort of plague is affecting the populace and daily living has become somewhat primitive. Paul (Joel Edgerton) lives with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (an exceptional Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in a secluded home in the woods. They’re getting by, barely, praying that this sickness, whatever it is, doesn’t affect them. However, when a stranger (Christopher Abbott) breaks in their home, claiming to be looking for supplies in what he thought was an abandoned building, the family is backed into a moral corner as to what to do with the intruder. The man, Will, claims to have a wife, Sarah, and a child, Andrew (Riley Keough & Griffin Faulkner), that they are living in another part of the woods and that he was simply looking for food and water. After much soul-searching, Paul decides to let this family of three shares his home with his family.
While this act is commendable, it is not without its consequences. Shults’ script is finely-tuned, as it slowly develops the mistrust that ultimately grows between the two families, punctuated by a series of disturbing dreams had by Travis, who’s haunted by his recently deceased grandfather and sexually aroused by Sarah. This young man’s emotional and psychological turmoil is the undercurrent of the film, his thoughts a reflection of how the natural order of things has been turned upside down.
Shults does a masterful job of creating a sense of place, the home suffused mostly with darkness and suggestive shadows, while his ability to push a scene from normality to unbearable tension is exceptional. While the film’s third act does falter and it could have benefitted from another jolt or two, there’s no question It Comes at Night, is an unnerving, timely piece of horror, a cruel and pointed endorsement of the sort of anti-immigration sentiment that is seemingly sweeping the world.