It Comes at Night
Using the same effective minimal framework, Trey Edward Shults repeats the formula that made Krisha such an intensely claustrophobic experience. It Comes at Night constantly plays on the fear of the unknown, be it the real motivations of the characters, the darkness that lays beyond their back door, or what it is that has driven this family to burrow themselves deep within the woods. This is simple and evocative filmmaking that establishes levels of tension far more elaborate than most costly set-ups have failed to achieve. From the very opening shot we are taken out of our comfort zone and surrounded for 90 mins with nervous paranoia.
That opening frame is of a frail old man facing down the camera, gasping for breath as his daughter Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), son-in-law Paul (Joel Edgerton) and grandson Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) say their goodbyes. But Grandpa Bud (David Pendleton) won't be afforded the luxury of a peaceful send-off. His skin is potholed with sores and hives and the family members stand by cautiously, protected by gloves and gas masks. In what seems to be a post-apocalyptic world created by a mysterious disease, tough choices have to be made, and Paul and Travis wheel Bud outside to execute one of them.
During interviews for the film, Shults revealed that the story was inspired by the death of his father, which could also be said about the troubled family dynamics - played by many of his real family members - in Krisha. Those often fragile boundaries are tested once more when an intruder breaks into the house where Paul and his wife and son are hidden away. Will (Christopher Abbott) doesn't appear to pose the threat first feared and he is invited along with his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and young son to share the house and provisions, although it becomes far from one big happy family.
Anxiety lies in almost every corner of this creaking old house and Schults delves into the depths of the shadows that spread inward from the forest as the cloak of night descends. His camera is rarely motionless, possessed by the slow zooms that enhance the feeling of unease and suspicion. The two families seem to be making the most of this harrowed existence but it is Travis who emerges as the troubled soul. He becomes our entry point into an ever more condensed situation that slowly spirals out of control. As a 17-year-old he is already tussling with his growing pains while trying to come to terms with the shock of this new way of life. When the nightmares start to find their way into his dreams, then a blur between fantasy and reality occurs that gradually becomes crucial to events later on.
It is Kelvin Harrison Jr, as Travis, who steals the show in a subtle performance that requires him to exude a more complex emotional state than the rest of the cast. We ourselves are unsure what to make of his slightly odd demeanour that at times verges on the edge of annoyance, although that is usually the sign of an actor doing a good job of breathing life into their character. Joel Edgerton is reliable and understated as the everyman father, the type of role he has made his own over the past five or so years. Riley Keough and Christopher Abbott are cast well as the younger family protecting their own interests, while not too much is asked of Carmen Ejogo in her role.
The open-ended nature of the story is what lingers once the credits have rolled, leaving a number of unresolved questions. None of which has a detrimental impact on a brief but powerful ending that refuses to offer an easy way out. The negative effects of distrust will find its way under the skin as quickly as any physical disease and we are left to contemplate the meaning of survival when there is nothing left to protect.