If there’s one thing that post-apocalypse scenarios have taught us, it’s that the human survivors frequently pose more of a threat to each other than whatever caused the catastrophe.
In writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ minimalist survival thriller, it’s a killer disease – characterised by black lesions and blood vomiting – that has culled the population and driven Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their 17-year-old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) to hole up in a cabin in the woods with the doors securely locked. Especially at night.
When an intruder breaks into their home, Paul determines that the man, Will (Christopher Abbott), isn’t infected and subsequently offers him sanctuary, along with his wife (Riley Keough) and young son. But will this act of altruism lead to safety in numbers, or put Paul’s own family at risk?
It Comes at Night is an intensely intimate apocalypse – a grim chamber piece that deposits the viewer in the midst of a pressure cooker situation, where mounting distrust and paranoia reigns. Although pitched as a horror film, it’s more a mood piece that generates a suffocating sense of dread, with chills evoked through creative editing, sound design, and lantern light; every nocturnal creak and bump has the potency of a good jump scare. It’s an impressive exercise in restraint, with the actual nature of the outbreak undisclosed and the focus fixed firmly on these six survivors.
With its ambiguous horrors, funereal atmosphere and domestic breakdown, It Comes at Night invites similarities with The Witch, and fans of that film will appreciate the bleak ambience it conjures, even if they’re not entirely satisfied by the denouement.
In cinemas: July 6, 2017
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults