The truth about any epidemics is, by the time we find out about how bad it is, it is too late. I might be paranoid and conspiracy- minded, but every rich person would be safely underground before us – the little people – find out a nuclear bomb is on its way to us – or a virus that kills in 2 days.
The Ebola virus that swept through West Africa took 21 days from contact to the first symptoms to appear. You then have 2 days of feeling lousy and you just ignore the symptoms. Day 3 you start to look bad. You start vomiting blood and have a high fever. On Day 4 there is brain damage and bleeding from nose, mouth, eyes, and anus. Day 5 is death. Three days and you’re dead.
Like the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., it took quite a long time and tens of thousands of deaths before scientists figured it out. So, like The Walking Dead TV series, nobody ever knows what originally happened. And its too late. All the wealthy people have left.
So it is with the premise of IT COMES AT NIGHT. What has happened and why is not disseminated to the American populace. All we know is a terrible virus has overrun the country and whoever is alive has to protect themselves. How does this virus spread? By smell, by touch?
In IT COMES AT NIGHT, Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejjogo), and teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) have survived the plague and intend to stay alive. Their house is boarded up, they are wearing gas masks and carrying rifles. They cautiously leave their house to burn and bury Sarah’s near-dead father. Whatever happened to Dad is transferred by touch and perhaps smell – thus the gas masks.
The family does not seem to know the genesis of this plague, but it has swept across the country. Isolating themselves seems to be the best defense. But Paul is vigilant and obsessed with what might happened if they go outside or someone tries to get in. The house is fortified and there is only one way in and one way out – through a red door.
Paul is near-hysterical keeping his family safe. Travis, 17 years old and without any outlets – we don’t know how long they have been isolated but its been a long time – is having a very tough time. His panicked father keeps him and his mother on constant alert.
What Paul is most afraid of happens. Someone tries to break into the house. Its a young man named Will (Christopher Abbott) and he is thoroughly beaten by Paul and tied up to a tree. He tells Paul he traveled 50 miles in search of water for his family. Urged on by Sarah – who desperately needs other people around to distract Paul, urges him to with Will and find his family. Will promises he has chickens and goats. After a horrifying road trip, Paul and Will return with Kim (Riley Keough) and their very young son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner).
Feeling there is safety in numbers, Will and Kim quickly endear themselves. Everyone gets along. Paul has a set of strict rules to follow, but Will and Kim are young and more “free-spirited” then paranoid Paul. They continue to enjoy life and each other. Travis, on the verge of manhood, all alone and vulnerable, begins to be attracted to Kim.
Travis begins spying on the couple as they make love. Listening to Will and Kim’s “pillow talk”, Travis sets in motion a highly antagonistic and startling confrontation. The ending is perfect.
IT COMES AT NIGHT is only the second feature for writer-director, Trey Edward Shults. I saw Shults’ first feature, KRISHA (2015). Wisely, Shults is building his career on solid ground, using small casts and claustrophobic settings.
All the ingredients of a terrific horror movie are here. The menacing soundtrack, the isolated house in the woods, the high tension and fears of the unknown.
Just like the first movie in the franchise, THE PURGE (2013), its a kid that does not listen to the rules laid down by his father. And when the kid initiates what follows by his actions, I always lose sympathy for the kid and hope he gets what he deserves.
Shults must have written a terrific screenplay, otherwise he would not have gotten Edgerton to star. Here he is at his best elevating the fear with his obsessive performance. The entire cast is terrific and I admire Riley Keough’s career path. Keough takes supporting roles and continues to show diversity in her acting abilities. Sooner than later, Keough will get a superhero franchise. I hope she makes a wise choice.