Director: Trey Edwards Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott
Every year there seems to be one horror standout that gets critics raving. And every year those critics refer back to the marching order of surprisingly high-quality, wonderfully original, always terrifying flicks that caught their attention enough to be Oscar conversation-worthy in an otherwise typical lineup of tear-jerking dramas. I'm no different, and so here they are: The Babadook (2014), It Follows (2015), The Witch (2016). This year's title already goes to It Comes at Night, even with much of the year left, simply because it is that good. Were another film to come along and dethrone it as the best scary movie of the year, I would gladly admit I was wrong, but that would have to be one hell of a horror film, since the king has already been crowned.
After an unspecified terror has swept across the cities of the land, people are now classified by two groups; the sick and the survivalists. The sick develop some sort of unparalleled illness that kills them quickly once caught, leaving their ravaged bodies to be burned by those they leave behind. The survivalists cling to safety through isolation, staking claims on whatever house or cave or truck they call home, defending their turf and food to the death. Paul keeps his family safe deep in the woods at his wife's father's cabin, even after Bud dies of the sickness. Paul and Sarah watch over their teen son, Travis, staying together during the day and locking the doors at night. When a man claiming to have a family in the forest breaks into their fortress in search of water, they must make a life-changing decision; save this new family and risk their own, or deny them and let them die.
It Comes at Night follows the tradition of modern horror hits by presenting us with a unique story, slowing down the action, refusing to give in to genre standards (mostly), and delivering something truly/refreshingly horrifying. It's a slow burn if ever there was one, a deliberate buildup to horror that you partly want and partly hope never comes. The son, Travis, has dreams each night, and it's these night terrors that really drive the story forward toward the edge, and I found myself desperate for him to just STOP so I wouldn't have to see what happens next. That's a sure sign of some talent behind the writing and the directing of this film, that the fear became so palpable that I felt like I might be able to avoid it if I begged.
The kid, in many ways, was the main character, it was through his eyes that we watched events unfold, all while the men of the movie had their own private battle. Joel Edgerton can do no wrong, and I'm not sure if there's a more trustworthy actor in Hollywood currently, someone you can count on (as soon as you hear their name) to deliver a game-changing performance. Christopher Abbott, his counterpart, was solid as well, both men protecting their families no matter what the cost. Edgerton's wife, played by Carmen Ejogo, was a shell of a character, and I thought it was strange how underutilized she was. Abbott's wife, on the other hand, played by Riley Keough, was really fascinating, and Keough is quickly becoming one of my favorite young actresses. For my money, and perhaps more specifically tailored to my tastes, Z for Zachariah is the post-apocalyptic drama you want, but there's no denying the power of It Comes at Night.