There are so many dystopian stories out there it sometimes feels like the movies just might produce dark visions of our planet until the end of the world comes for real. The latest film to portray the end of times is “It Comes At Night,” a psychological horror film starring Joel Edgerton and Riley Keough.
Set in the aftermath of some sort of cataclysmic plague that wiped out much of the population, the story follows a family of gas mask wearing survivors. Paranoid “You can’t trust anyone but family” father Paul (Edgerton), steely mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and 17-year-old Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) live in a secluded cabin fortified with boarded windows. Barricaded in, with only two double-locked doors and an airlock separating them from the dangers of the outside, infected world.
Their quiet home life is turned inside out when an intruder named Will (Christopher Abbott) breaches their security. The young man tells Paul that his wife and son (Keough and Griffin Robert Faulkner) are just fifteen miles away, dying. “You’re a good person,” says Will, “just trying to protect your family but don’t let mine die because of it.” Moved, Paul agrees to help. The two men brave the uncertain and dangerous journey to Will’s home, rescuing Will’s wife and son. When the two families move in under one roof small cracks soon become chasms that lead to paranoia and suspicion.
“It Comes at Night” is a study in angst, claustrophobia and fear. It’s an up-close-and-personal look at the way society reacts in times of crisis, a lantern-lit look at survival. An existential horror film in shading and feel, the real terror here comes from the characters and not the unnamed virus that decimated mankind. Like “Night of the Living Dead” it is a look at the paranoia and fear that comes along with a societal collapse.
Instead of going for jump scares or outright horror director Trey Edward Shults uses an anxiety-inducing soundtrack to slowly build an atmosphere of dread. Concentrating on the hopelessness of the situation he supplies an emotional punch that plays like a kick to the stomach. It’s disturbing—there hardly a moment of uplift to be found anywhere here—but at a brisk ninety minutes its harrowing story never outstays its welcome. Whatever state your life is in, you’ll be glad to return to it after the end credits.