IT COMES AT NIGHT

**** (out of five)

IMG_0450Trey Edward Shults made the best feature film of 2016, Krisha. His follow-up is an intensely personal, extremely precise meditation on fear, grief, family and community. It creates, along with Get Out, Raw, Hounds of Love and Personal Shopper, a quintet of horror-adjacent films this year that have far more to say, and say it far better, than any “non-genre” releases. These auteur thrillers are, thus far, the films of 2017.

Shults is an auteur indeed. Krisha was made in his parents’ house using family members for around thirty thousand bucks. A24, the best distribution company working today (Moonlight, 20th Century Women, American Honey, The Lobster, Green Room, The Witch, Room, Amy, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, Locke, Under The Skin, The Spectacular Now… to name a few!) saw the film, recognised prodigiousness (Schults is only 28) and gave him five million bucks, with, it seems, total creative control. May they keep on doing so; may he be to them as Tarantino is to Miramax. Shults is uncompromising, delivering his film; it may not appeal to a mainstream genre audience, but for cinephiles, it is sublime. Every moment of the film is determined and exact, including its ambiguity. It is a distinguished work of cinema from a serious artist.

Joel Edgerton gives his finest performance to date as Paul, a man trying to keep his wife, son and dog safe in the shadow of a plague. They live in a boarded-up house in the middle of some woods, somewhere in the United States, under strict isolationist protocols; when circumstances determine those protocols to be ever-so-slightly altered – when things change – they change for the worse.

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The overriding tone here is dread. The film is relentlessly bleak, often sad, and frequently creepy, but more than anything, it’s anxious. Paranoia reigns. Paul’s determination to protect his small family has caused him to be jumpy, edgy and hard. He was a history teacher before the plague; now he’s an armed sentinel. His choices in this desperate situation are completely relatable, and the film achieves enormous power putting us in his shoes: “What the hell would I do?”

This is a lean film in every aspect, including its running time of 97 minutes (which may be all you can take). The craft across all departments is impeccable; Shults knows how to marry vision and sound. The script has many surprises and, as mentioned, some deliberate ambiguities. I gather some audiences have not exactly embraced the latter; I found them wholly satisfying (as I did the ending, which I think is brilliant). Your takeaway from It Comes At Night may really depend on what you want out of cinema. This is challenging stuff that bears intellectual rigour, or, to put it another way: if you’re not willing to think about it, you probably won’t like it.

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CJ’s Top Ten of 2016 (Plus Top 5 TV)

These films were released in the United States and/or Australia in the calendar year 2016. They do not include certain highly praised films which I have not seen yet, such as Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea, and Jackie, which I have seen and which is a truly brilliant film, but which I have not published a review for yet and which doesn’t open in Australia until January 12.

Your comments – and your own lists – are welcome and appreciated!

THE TOP TEN IN ORDER:

Krisha

Set in a roomy Texas house on Thanksgiving and taking place entirely within that day, Krisha is a serious, creepy, ambitious, moving, uncompromising and wholly successful cinematic work. Krisha, played by Krisha Fairchild, director Trey Edward Shults’ aunt, returns to the bosom of her family – played almost entirely by members of Shults’ own family – for the holiday. The trouble is, under the welcoming surfaces, everything is cracked, and as the day progresses, the glass starts to splinter. It’s seemingly simple yet, in just 83 minutes, enormously, profoundly compelling and quite terrifying.

Tickled

One of those documentaries where the less you know, the better, because every single twist in the tale is surprising, and the best of them are head-spinning, jaw-dropping, and hysterical. Suffice to say that it’s a Pandora’s Box with results both funny and deeply disturbing.

Captain Fantastic

Thematically massive, tonally bold, determinedly non-formulaic and featuring a preternaturally perfectly cast leading man at the top of his game.

Sing Street

A total delight from start to finish, and the best film about the pure joy of making music since We Are The Best! (2013), with which it shares similarities.

Goldstone

Simultaneously a small story set against a massive landscape and a huge story told within the world’s smallest community, Goldstone is a stunning, original piece of cinema.

Weiner

This sensational – in all senses of the word – feature documentary is thus a scintillating glimpse into a unique political marriage. But more than anything, it is a film whose camera is there at those moments you never see: the ones immediately proceeding what we do see, when what we do see is decided for us.

Hell or High Water

The sad, dusty towns against which this classically-oriented story play out are breathtakingly evocative, as are the bodies and faces of all the Texans we meet along the way. It’s its own universe. Details are tremendously revealed through an almost perfect union of character and dialogue.

David Brent: Life On The Road

It is exquisite to watch a performer / writer re-visit his greatest creation again with such precision. The original songs are brilliantly awful; they’re not only full of hilarious and spot-on lyrics but the music itself is perfect, exactly what would come from the pen of David Brent. Indeed, the whole film, despite its air of improvisation, is terrifyingly precise.

Elle

A mesmerising, frenzied abomination, a thrilling, propulsive, lurid provocation that is simultaneously classy and grotesque, refined and coarse, arthouse and grindhouse.

Down Under

An extremely angry film, spewing vitriolic rage at the kind of people who spew vitriolic rage. Basically, it’s a war on idiots, of every ethnic stripe.

TOP FIVE TELEVISION:

The Girlfriend Experience

High Maintenance

The Night Of

Fleabag

The People Vs O.J. Simpson / O.J.: Made In America

Krisha

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***** (out of five)

As the end of 2016 hurtles toward us like a US/China War, critics are making lists, generally of the top ten variety, but also lists of other “bests”: actor, director, cinematographer, new talent. I certainly am.

As I prepare them I realise that one film that will feature prominently has gone unreviewed in the pages of Film Mafia, since it never got released in Australia and I “missed it” until deep into the year. That film is Krisha, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults as his feature debut. It’s astonishing, and the only film I watched this year for a second time within a week.

Set in a roomy Texas house on Thanksgiving and taking place entirely within that day, Krisha is a serious, creepy, ambitious, moving, uncompromising and wholly successful cinematic work. Krisha, played by Krisha Fairchild, Shults’ aunt, returns to the bosom of her family – played almost entirely by members of Shults’ own family – for the holiday. The trouble is, under the welcoming surfaces, everything is cracked, and as the day progresses, the glass starts to splinter. It’s seemingly simple yet, in just 83 minutes, enormously, profoundly compelling and quite terrifying.

The film was shot in Shults’ parents’ home in nine days for around sixty thousand dollars, but it is fully realised as a piece of cinema, with bold, elaborate cinematography, astonishing creepy original music by Brian McOmber, and absolutely superb acting that deliberately combines pure naturalism with a heightened style as the film demands. It has won sixteen major awards including the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at South by Southwest and was nominated for the Critics Week Grand Prize and the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Krisha is similar in tone to a horror movie, set within the structure of a “home for the holidays” family drama, and entirely unforgettable. I could not recommend it more.