A nightmare that still haunts you weeks later. That is the glorious and terrifying effect of It Comes at Night.
The list of film directors who refer explicitly to our Pieter Brueghel includes resounding names like Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier, Abbas Kiarostami, and Nicolas Roeg. Trey Edward Shults has now joined that list. This young American talent gives us long detailed shots of The Triumph of Death, a huge and horrific tableau. Its relationship with his film is thematic, not stylistic.
Some kind of plague – the Black Death that made Brueghel’s own day a living hell? – forces a contemporary American family to go into survival mode. Draconian safety measures do not prevent an infected grandfather from being euthanised and cremated in the very first scene.
A history teacher (a brilliant Joel Edgerton) is a textbook case of a patriarch who goes to extremes to protect his family. His wife supports his view that horrific times call for horrific measures. His teenaged son, who suffers from nightmares and raging hormones, is more inclined to question a life of feat, pain, and deprivation.
The urge to survive comes into even sharper focus in the film when the family hesitantly takes a younger family of three into their hermetically sealed cabin in the woods. Is paranoia what distinguishes the survivors from the dead? Is it every man for himself in the post-apocalypse? Is it possible to maintain a life without love, compassion, and trust?
The dystopia that It Comes at Night presents is jet-black and extraordinarily gruesome. From the first second to the last, the viewer experiences a sense of foreboding, discomfort, and oppression. Director-screenwriter Shults has cast superlative actors, keeps the tension high by revealing information sparingly, and relies heavily on cinematography and sound editing to make the invisible threat tangible.
The ideal antidote for gratuitous horror and summer films that are not light but simply vacuous.
> It Comes at Night. US, dir.: Trey Edward Shults, act.: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough