Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) shows that it’s possible to make very exciting apocalyptic and horror films on a small budget. All you need is a good story and the ability to tell it well. I highly recommend this indie horror gem.
A plague has wiped out billions, the cities have been abandoned, and people are isolated and focused on survival. Paul, Sarah, and their son Travis live in a remote house in the woods, getting by through being careful. They meet Will and his family and decided to take them in, but the ever-present threat of infection looms.
The film is a delight to discover. The actors all do a great job conveying the full spectrum of humanity in a crisis. The characters behave the way we’d expect them to and most of their decisions are very well reasoned, producing authenticity, believability, and genuine conflict. The tug of war between doing the right thing and self preservation was fascinating to watch. The antagonist is the disease outside and the constant threat that the tenuous alliance between these families could fracture into violence.
The atmosphere and pacing are extremely tense. The director wrings a huge amount of power from a single location. Without electricity, the house is very dark at night, lit only by LED lanterns, making it feel claustrophobic. During the day, the forest surrounding the house feels similarly foreboding, as it may conceal infection or raiders. The story never flags, pounding its way to the end while building and periodically defusing tension. The ending is gripping.
But there lies the one thing I didn’t like about the film, which was its denouement in which much is lost but nothing is really answered. None of the possibilities work for how the events roll out, suggesting the plague itself may be an entity, such as the mystery guest in the MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. It also explains the title, IT COMES AT NIGHT, which otherwise in my view doesn’t make sense for the film, suggesting a monster element that just isn’t there. The director explained he wanted the film to have an ambiguous ending, but if you’re going to get me to invest in a story, you owe me more than a mess of elements that defy explanation. INCEPTION had a wonderfully ambiguous ending, but it made sense and fit the film.
So, yeah, the ending was frustrating for me, but wow, what a fantastic ride to get there. IT COMES AT NIGHT is now in my top 5 list of must-see apocalyptic films. Highly recommended.