When I recounted It Comes at Night to my wife her response was to inform me that I watch some depressing films. And there is no getting around the fact that the film starts at a bleak moment of despair, and continues its trajectory downwards, to become one of the more harrowing films of 2017 thus far.
The film begins during the aftermath of a catastrophic event - a terrible illness is rampant and a family are hiding in the middle of a forest. Their existence is complicated by the appearance of another family and, after a spell of cooperation, the paranoia and fear that this new arrival breeds. To delve further into proceedings would ruin much of what makes the film so interesting, and while it might resemble the like of previous paranoid horrors The Thing and The Shining, it is uniquely of its own. I've never seen a film quite like it; the tension is near unbearable. The story goes that the BBFC tried to cut the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre to make it more tolerable for audiences but could never shake the pervading sense of dread and death the film has. This is the case for It Comes at Night - the atmosphere is bleak throughout and the film offers no respite for this.
The cast are exemplary, giving a lived-in quality to proceedings. Joel Edgerton could easily have reduced his part to the usual enraged, bearded patriarch but there is a softness and desperation to him that makes the deeds undertaken all the more painful to watch. Carmen Ejogo as his wife is fascinatingly complicit, and adds depth to the film, while Christopher Abbott as their son gives a heartbreaking performance. Added to this is Riley Keough and Kelvin Harrison Jr. who are both great as the intruding couple. The film is intimate and the superiority of its cast lifts the film.
Trey Edward Shults directs and writes the film and it feels singular in its vision, aided by a potent score from Brian McOmber and some of the best cinematography of the year courtesy of Drew Daniels. There are so many complexities to It Comes at a Night and it breeds theories and begs to be explored further. But I can't say that I will revisit this film for a while; its devastating hold is one to be enjoyed but only if you can embrace levity afterwards. Hug a loved one, share a drink, watch an episode of your favourite sitcom.
Some visions of the world's end are loud (Mad Max: Fury Road), some are ridiculous (2012), and some are quiet (It Comes at Night). The quiet ones are the visions that devastate. And It Comes at Night, with its committed cast, is utterly devastating. I like the misery but here it is like a shot of tar black absinthe; impacting, leaves a kick and only to be experienced fleetingly.