I’ve made it no secret that when it comes to horror, I prefer films that take more of a slow burn approach and focus more of psychology than creating jump scares. That’s why the horror films that have been the most effective for me over the past few years have been films like The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch and Get Out. We’ve now got another one of those films with It Comes At Night, which takes the paranoia from post-apocalypse survival films to it’s logical extreme, creating an incredibly tense experience.
The film focuses on a family (Paul, Sarah and Travis) living in a house in the woods following the outbreak of an unknown disease. One night, a man tries to break into the house but is caught doing so, but eventually the man, Will, comes to a deal with Paul, Sarah and Travis to bring his family (Kim and Andrew), along with their food supply, over to the house, with the others accepting this due to the higher level of protection offered. As the film goes on though, paranoia begins to set in as circumstances around the house begin to change. Now the main thing that works about the film is its atmosphere. There’s this feeling of dead throughout the whole film that puts you in the mindset of the characters, particularly with the paranoia the pervades the film. This is helped by the lack of things that are explained throughout the film. We find out very little about the circumstances of the disease, how the rest of the world has been affected or even the history of the characters. Because of this, whenever even the smallest element doesn’t add up it creates this tension over how it will affect the characters. Saying anymore would spoil the film and this is a film where I would recommend going in as blind as possible.
The performances meanwhile add to the sense of dread throughout the film. Joel Edgerton does great work as Paul, showing how concerned he is for his family and having to balance the desire to trust Will and Kim with pragmatism over the situation of the world, with the breakdown of their relationship being one of the most effective bits of horror in the film. This is helped by the equally strong performance from Christopher Abbott as Will, who also shows a good level of concern for his family, and the clash of egos between Paul and Will creates some of the most effective tension in the film. Carmen Ejogo is strong as Sarah, being one of the more pragmatic characters in the film, being a bit of a voice of reason, up until the end which I won’t spoil here. Riley Keough meanwhile gives the most compassionate performance in the film, her character being the only adult who is truly a good person, with the clash between this nature and the other personalities in the house creating effective drama. The best performance though comes from Kelvin Harrison Jr as Travis. Over the course of the film, Harrison does a great job at showing the psychological damage that the entire situation is placing on Travis, how he doesn’t know who to trust and the growing difficulty he has in separating his dreams from reality.
The technical side of the film is very impressive. The production design for the house, combined with the cinematography and direction gives both a clear geography of the house and creates a sense of claustrophobia throughout the film. This helps the atmosphere of the film stay strong throughout, adding to the overall level of tension. Special attention also has to be given to the shifting aspect ratios. During the dream sequences in the film, the aspect ratio changes with the screen getting narrower during them. Aside from creating a clear differentiation between dreams and reality, this tactic does a good job of setting the tone throughout the film, particularly at the end of the film. The music meanwhile creates a very unsettling mood combined with the production design and cinematography.
Overall, whilst it may not be for everyone, I found It Comes At Night to be a very effective, tense horror film. The questions it raises end up creating a more terrifying atmosphere than any answers could provide, whilst the performances, production design, cinematography and music help to codify the atmosphere of the film to create an incredibly tense experience.
My Rating: 5/5