“It Comes at Night”

The apocalyptic horror genre is one of my favorites because it raises moral questions about survival. How far will you go to survive? Can you trust anyone? Can you live with killing someone? “It Comes at Night” asks these questions and the answer from watching this is no. “It Comes at Night” is the most haunting film I’ve seen this year.

An unknown plague has wiped out most of civilization. A family of three lives in a secluded mansion in the woods and consists of father Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and teenaged son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). They offer shelter to a mysterious man named Will (Christopher Abbott) and his wife Kim (Riley Keough) after a brief violent confrontation.

Rules are established, but the two most important ones are don’t go out at night and leave the red door locked at all times. Will someone break the rules? Can Paul trust Will? Why does Travis wonder the house at night?

“It Comes at Night” is an unconventional apocalyptic horror film. Yes, there are gas masks, a nasty human virus, and barbaric standoffs. But there isn’t a known source of the virus, zombies, or a soldier with a false promise. That’s where writer/director Trey Edward Shults excels is his focus on the characters and minimal setting.

The characters stay within the home or its grounds. When they’re together, they have brief conversations and little is known about them, leaving the viewer to analyze them. The ruthless Paul is a former history teacher, so he was likely civilized prior to the virus. Will had various odd jobs before the outbreak and relocated several times during, so he struggles to protect his family.

“It Comes at Night” is told primarily through Travis’s point of view. He witnesses Paul’s survival instincts and realizes he may have to take drastic measures to survive. He has a series of nightmares that risk being cliched, but are ultimately used to reflect Travis’s emotions or foreshadow what’s to come. They’re refreshingly chilling sequences.

“It Comes at Night” will likely polarize audiences since some viewers will love its artistic take on horror while others will compare it unfavorably to “The Walking Dead.” I personally am on board and can’t stop thinking about this masterful study of human nature.

Grade: A