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It Comes at Night

Year: 2017
Production Co: Animal Kingdom
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writer: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbott, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Riley Keough

Just this morning as I write this review, I was reading about M Night Shyamalan's latest movie, which is something about a family living in a remote cabin trying to protect themselves from an apocalypse, and I wondered to myself just how many other paranoid thrillers like it we need.

It Comes At Night was well done for the constraints of the genre, but not too much stands out to me a few weeks later. It makes a particular point of not revealing exactly what dystopian nightmare has descended in the outside world, only stoic dad and husband Paul (Joel Edgerton), controlled but skittish wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and curious and trusting teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) giving you any clues about the threat over the horizon.

Maybe more about what has gone wrong might have made the film a bit more distinctive, but writer/director Trey Edward Shults isn't interested in any of that. Like so many people appreciate about The Thing, he's interested in the dynamic of slowly grinding fear and paranoia, about whether you can really trust someone and when it conflicts with your wanting to be a decent human being.

We meet the family as Paul's aged father, speaking gibberish and apparently sick, sits dying while they all surround him in jerry-rigged hazmat suits. Soon after they're burning his corpse in a hole in the ground while they mourn, hinting that it's some sort of incurable disease that's ravaged the world.

Along with their self-sustaining lifestyle in the forest, the family's one rule is to not unlock the very cinematic red door at the end of a hallway of their home. When they hear noises in the garage one night and burst in to find a young man, Will (Christopher Abbott) pilfering supplies, Paul knocks him out and ties him to an outside tree to try and get him to confess whether he's alone and what sort of danger Paul and his family are in thanks to his presence.

Will insists he was just looking for food and that he's left his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and little boy behind in their own nearby hiding place, and that if Paul lets him live and collect his family he'll share his own supplies and they'll all be better off.

Everyone want to trust him – even Paul, the most cautious in the family – but he accompanies Will to pick his wife and little boy up and things seem to be going swimmingly while the two families co-exist. But little hints, contradicting stories and clues add up, Paul especially getting increasingly suspicious that Will and his family aren't what they seem.

After Travis finds the little boy asleep on the floor in another room that isn't the one they've given him and the family dog – who's gone missing – returns infected with the horrible illness – things go south quickly.

The critical door has been left open, and nobody knows who did it or believes what anyone else says. Travis comes to believe the kid is actually infected, which would have infected him, and Paul and Sarah have to decide whether to confront and exile Will's family before their own is put at risk.

The script and performances do indeed wrangle a very effective sense of mistrust and paranoia, but the colour scheme and design is all quite dour and not very cinematic and when so many films have done this kind of thing before – even as successfully as this one has – it needed something extra to stand the test of time, no matter how enjoyable it is while you're watching it.

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