**** (out of five)
Trey 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.
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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