Trey Edward Shults critically acclaimed 2015 directorial debut, Krisha, is an unnerving psychological thriller that explores the extreme tension brought about from familial relationships. While family members will be there for you in times of struggle and abandonment, their actions can just as easily torment and disturb you for life. Shults’s 2017 psychological thriller, It Comes at Night, explores the horror medium in a similar way: family is essential for both a person’s growth and demise.
The film opens to a tender moment shared between a sickly father and his daughter, the latter weeping as she consoles the pallid man. There is no explanation as to what made the father sick, leaving him gasping for a breath and covering him oozing boils similar to those from the bubonic plague, but we can discern that whatever he has is contagious, as the daughter and her husband are wearing rubber gloves and masks while covering all free skin with clothing. Once her goodbyes have been uttered, the husband and son cart the diseased grandfather beyond off in a wheelbarrow, methodically dump him onto a heavy blanket on the dirt, shoot him in the head, and then douse the corpse with gasoline and set it ablaze within a pre-dug grave. There is no explanation as to why these actions are taken, but what we discern is simple: that his death was a necessity for the safety of the family.
No answer is provided as to what caused this disease. The only takeaway is that it is spread through physical interaction with those that have contracted the supposed viral infection. The only certainty that the audience knows of is the presence of fear. There is an immense fear for this disease and the symptoms it brings with it. This is why this bi-racial nuclear family – the father, Paul (Joel Edgerton), the mother, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and the son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) – have boarded themselves within their home, leaving only one exit and entrance (a deadbolt-locked door leading to the garage and a cherry red deadbolt-locked door that secures the home from the former). The family is closed off, both physically and socially, with their home placed far off into the woods and speaking little to one another, the only human interaction they have. Travis is the center of the majority of the family’s worry and camera’s focus during the film. Wrought by sickening dreams of his now deceased grandfather and plagued by severe isolation for a burgeoning teenager, he is often found staring off into the deep woods or listening in on his elders conversations while hiding in the recesses of the home’s attic.
Upon the first interaction with an outsider, a man who breaking into the family’s home by bursting through the two deadbolt-locked outer doors, the family goes into an immediate quarantine. They do not know where this man came from, his reasons for breaking into their home, or if he is alone or with a clan that is oncoming to ransack their home. Upon knocking the man unconscious, Joel and Travis take the man off to the trees beyond their home, binding and gagging him to the tree’s trunk to assure that he is neither sick or conspiring with others.
After waiting some days, Joel finally confronts him, learning that he supposedly broke into their home while looking for water, supposedly thought it was empty, supposedly has a family that he is attempting to take care of, one that he left alone 40 miles off in the backwoods, and that his family supposedly has goats and chickens that they could trade for clean water and shelter. Joel has a right to be concerned, considering that he knows nothing about this man and is currently taking him at his word. However, following the insistence of Sarah, Joel entrusts him, deciding that he will drive him back to his family. Following another quick, gruesome altercation, we learn that the man’s name is Will (Christopher Abbott), and are just as quickly introduced to both his wife, Kim (Riley Keough), and son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). Returning the family back to his home three days later, Will, his family, and livestock in tow begin to settle down into their new home.
While it seems that life would become easier between these families, as is depicted through a number of wholesome, humanizing scenes of one family aiding and teaching the other, it proves to still be unsteady and frightful. Following some unexpected events, a new onslaught of fears present themselves – accusations of collusion against the family, of their son bringing the disease into their home, and the belief that they are attempting to steal Joel’s and Sarah’s possessions and put the family at future risk. From here on out, the movie crawls menacingly towards a relentlessly pessimistic climax. Rather than attempting to scare the viewer with cheap and unnecessary jump scares, Shults tightly binds the camera around the characters, leaving the viewer to experience the ever-present fear and dense dread suffused within the reality of a post-apocalyptic world.
Among this version of the world and the one we live in, there is a fear for what comes out at night, that which hides between brush and tree limbs, disguising its ugly and wretched face behind the unassuming black of night. However, it could be that nothing comes at night. Perhaps all that lurks out there are our own fears, that which we conjure up and believe to be true. If that is the case, we have nothing to fear about the unknown world. All we have to fear is one another.