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Review: It Comes At Night – “An anxious and uneasy survivalist thriller”

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It Comes at Night is written and directed by Trey Edward Shults (Krisha), and stars Joel Edgerton (Warrior), Christopher Abbott (A Most Violent Year), Carmen Ejogo (Alien Covenant), Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (The Birth of a Nation).

In a world that has suffered some sort of un-elaborated-on outbreak, Paul (Edgerton) has boarded himself up in a house in the woods with his wife, Sarah (Ejogo), and their son Travis (Harrison Jr.). Sarah’s father has recently died from the mystery virus that is all pustules and ultra-violent tendencies, and Travis – who adored his grandfather – retreats inside himself: taking solace in the company of his grandfather’s dog, and eavesdropping through the floorboards on his parents.

One night there is a break in and Paul catches the intruder, Will (Abbott). Paul is torn about what to do with him and leaves him tied up in the woods until he decides to kill him to keep his family safe and undiscovered. However, once he hears about Will’s young family – and more importantly that they have lots of food – he decides to allow them to come and join his family in the house, forming a proto-community.

All seems well until one strange night when a door is left open and no-one can work out – or is willing to admit – who did it. Trust and friendships fray, alliances form and paranoia takes ahold – fuelled by jealousy and lies. Who, if anyone, is now infected; and what will those who wish to survive have to do to ensure the future of their colony?

It Comes at Night is an anxious and uneasy survivalist thriller that is brutal, bleak and breath-holding. The film is a dark and tough exploration of how when hard decisions need to be made, perhaps what makes us who we are – our human nature and best intentions – mean that we will always be ultimately doomed unless we can remain heartless. But then have we ultimately lost anyway if we have had to quash our humanity and act soulless to survive?

The doom is amped up and focussed by Shults’s refusal to disclose basic information like the year, location, or what happened. Over the course of the feature it becomes clear that that is not important because it is not the story Shults wants to tell or what he wishes to explore. Your post-apocalyptic-media-soaked mind fills in the gaps anyway, and It Comes at Night functions like a very well shot, existential, zombie-less episode of The Walking Dead.

Edgerton and Ejogo are excellent as parents willing to do anything to protect their family, no matter what it takes; while Harrison Jr. steals every scene as a pure teen unhappy with this new world and tempted by the only non-mother woman he knows. Abbott’s talking down of Paul while he is tied up is perfectly pitched, and the pairs subsequent small adventure adds some more visceral action and thrills to this isolated trust-no-one pot boiler.

Fellow fans of The Witch may also recognise the goat…

It Comes At Night opens on 7th July 2017.

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