Writer: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner
Running time: 91mins
What’s the story: A family, living in a house in the woods after a pandemic kills a large percentage of the population, must decide whether to trust another family seeking refuge with them.
What’s the verdict: Anyone looking to get their horror film produced should watch director Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore chiller chamber piece.
With a modest budget, he has taken the archetypal horror locale – the cabin in the woods – as the setting for a contamination survival horror in the vein of Right At Your Door, Carriers, The Road and Cabin Fever.
Largely confined to one location, the bulk of the budget seems to have gone on securing the excellent cast. Led by first rate supporting actor Joel Edgerton, bumped up to the lead as Paul, the sad-eyed dad protecting his family.
Alien: Covenant’s Ejogo is similarly convincing as Paul’s wife Sarah, and Harrison Jr is an effective audience anchor as their son Travis, well-meaning but plagued by nightmares.
James White’s Christopher Abbott and Mad Max: Fury Road’s Riley Keough are as solid as Will and Kim, strangers taken in by Paul, along with their chickens and young lad (Faulkner).
Employing a first-rate cast is a canny move as Shults’ script opens with a mercy killing and demands heavy emotional lifting from its players for the entire 91-minute run time. The writer/director penned the script after his dad has died of cancer and the result is a tightened-screw experience of dread and claustrophobia. All expertly shot in pools of oily black shadow by Found Footage 3D cinematographer Drew Daniels.
Shults’ is unafraid to tease the audience with information, while resisting explaining what is actually going on. A pandemic is wiping out humankind. Survivors have turned dangerous in a desperate bid to live and trust can be fatal. Is Will telling the truth about his family? Why does Paul insist no-one leave the house at night? Plus, is there something in those woods… the family dog certainly seems freaked out.
Problem is, when withholding so much plot background, expectations for an original twist or fresh take on apocalypse movie traditions increase. But, It Comes At Night is essentially a well-done bottle episode of The Walking Dead, not the sum of its parts.
And when those parts can be disturbing indeed, the question lingers, what is any of this for? Much misery arrives before an abrupt ending that is a) likely to illicit giggles and b) is not as satisfying as what you and your friends could conjure in the pub afterward.
Shults, whose debuted with the offbeat drama Krisha, is clearly a name to watch. He should steer clear of well-worn convention for movie number three.
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