It Comes at Night
Despite upgrades in cast, budget and premise, Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night is dogged by similar issues that hampered the writer/director’s acclaimed debut Krisha.
As before, Shults seems enamored with his characters and the scenario at hand, content with teasing audiences through long, drawn out scenes that offer minimal substance.
Though a master technician — shot composition, lighting and editing were not issues in Krisha and they certainly aren’t here — his filmmaking is built on the assumption that ambiguity is intrinsically captivating, and in the several tense moments in It Comes at Night that actually deliver jolts, that thesis proves true.
In the tale of Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their 17-year-old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who live together in a rural house in the wake of an unspecified epidemic, Shults aims for a different kind of thriller, an admirable goal but one that rarely makes for a gripping view.
Initially, however, the lack of information works in the film’s favor, casting an air of mystery over the property and its inhabitants. Even after seeing the illness’ effects on Sarah’s father Bud (David Pendleton), it’s tantalizingly unclear how widespread the danger is and the great precautions the trio take to ensure their health and safety — centered on gas masks, firearms and an ominous red door that they keep locked — tensely set up the inevitable tipping point.
And so, when late night intruder Will (Christopher Abbott) barges in, viewers are right there with Paul & Co., unsure whether Will is telling the truth about simply wanting to get supplies for his wife and son, some 50 miles away.
A subsequent well-staged sequence shows the dangers of venturing beyond Paul’s property and the addition of Will’s wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), who might not be half Travis’ age, adds to the promise of domestic drama — one that Shults soon turns into a largely unfulfilling waiting game.
Plagued by pacing problems, It Comes at Night devolves into long stretches of apparent character and plot development, few of which have payoffs. As Travis’ disturbing dreams further muddy the narrative, answers remain elusive and render investing in his and his housemates’ plights a futile endeavor.
Grade: C. Rated R. Starts June 8 at AMC Classic and Biltmore Grande and June 9 at Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse