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‘Night’ brisk psychological thriller – Film stems from personal tale

 ‘It Comes at Night’ has the title of a horror film and, at times, the mood of one, but it is far too restrained to get the juices of the genre crowd going.

That’s not an accident or a mistake, however. More likely, it’s a cheeky riff on the leaden, generic titles of so many jump-scare films before it. The “It” in writer and director Trey Edward Shults’ “It Comes at Night” might be the deadly disease that’s turned an isolated family into ruthless survivalists or the actual intruder that upends their lives; but it could just as well be the crippling and overwhelming power of doubt and paranoia. If that’s any indication, it shouldn’t be a surprise then that “It Comes at Night” is a psychological thriller that is more likely to haunt than scare.

That’s not to say there aren’t some moments that might make you yelp. Shults, in only his second feature following his splashy debut with the family psychodrama “Krisha,” stylishly and effectively builds tension and mystery in this stripped-down experiment that crescendos occasionally into the stuff of nightmares.

It’s centered on one family, Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) and their dog Stanley. They live in a big house deep in the woods and entirely alone. There’s some sort of disease going around in the world outside of their protected fortress, and it’s turned people crazy and desperate. The disease itself, which hits quickly and is highly contagious, is barely explained. It’s also possible that it’s scarcely understood by these people. Nevertheless, they’ve decided that strict isolationism is the only means for survival.

Still, something has managed to penetrate their barricade and made the grandfather ill. This is how the movie starts — with a stark image of a dying, decaying face. They bury him out back and thus are already on edge when someone breaks into their home as they sleep. Before they can even take a look at the trespasser’s face, Paul has already beat him to a pulp and tied him to a tree where he spends the night wailing.

Paul doesn’t trust this man, Will (Christopher Abbott), but after it’s established that he is not sick and is merely looking for water for his wife (Riley Keough) and kid (Griffin Robert Faulkner), the main family decides that the only option is to invite this new threesome to stay with them. They figure they can’t let them go now that they know where they live, so might as well band together.

As you might imagine, everything goes great in this away-from-the-apocalypse outpost for a while, but there is feeling that something is not quite right. Or maybe it’s just in their heads. Much of the weirdness comes from Travis, who is living out an already fraught time in life (the teen years) in a particularly fraught moment (the possible end of days?). He has visceral and terrifying nightmares about the unknown world around him and all that could go wrong, which are rather effective in propelling the sparse narrative forward.


What it all amounts to is something that should be questioned. It’s an interesting and stylish effort with not much good to say about humans, although perhaps it’s those dark, uncomfortable truths that Shults explored in “Krisha” that he likes best.

Disconcerting themes aside, with a bigger budget, and professional actors who aren’t members of his family, Shults continues to show real promise in world and mood creation and it will be exciting to see what he chooses to sink his teeth into next.

Even with the bare bones plot of “It Comes at Night,” somehow you find yourself suspicious of even the trees by the end. No zombies required.

“It Comes at Night,” an A24 release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “for violence, disturbing images, and language.” Running time: 97 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Trey Edward Shults burst onto the movie scene two years ago with his first film, festival favorite “Krisha,” made on a paltry $30,000 budget with his own family members as actors.

“Krisha,” a 2015 film about addiction that drew from the writer-director’s personal life, went on to be one of the best reviewed films of the year and won several awards.

Now Shults, 27, appears to have done it again with a horror and psychological thriller, prompted by a deeply personal experience, that has scored glowing reviews.

“It Comes at Night,” out in US movie theaters on Friday, revolves around a family of three, led by dad Paul, that is trying to survive in a plague-infested North America.

The film starts with a shocking death and develops further into unease and paranoia when another family of three turns up at the rustic, remote home asking for refuge. Paul begrudgingly agrees.

Shults said the impetus for what he calls a scary, emotional and non-conventional horror film, came from his own father’s death.

“The opening scene of the movie… is what I said to my dad on his deathbed, and he was full of fear and regret and he didn’t want to let go.

“It was a traumatic thing that changed my life and two months after that I wrote this script and it like spewed out of me in three days… I was clearly grappling with the emotions that were going on in my head and applying that to this fictional narrative,” he said.

Shults said much of the character of teen son Travis, who has nightmares, is also based on himself.

“I have trouble sleeping at night. I’m really a night owl and night is when my brain is really active and it’s when everyone else is asleep and you have to confront your own thoughts in a world that’s quiet.”

Despite the glowing reviews, one person who has not watched the finished film is Shults himself.

“We did a small test screening with a way rougher cut a while back and I had a few drinks and I broke down sobbing at the end of it uncontrollably, which I think was due to the fact of the personal nature of the movie but also just how exhausted I was from working and a few drinks,” he said.

“I haven’t watched it since.”


LOS ANGELES: Thandie Newton got the call. You know, the call that made her 16-year-old daughter want to tell her friends about mom’s next movie.

That call was about Newton landing a part in the “Star Wars” Han Solo spinoff, set to hit theaters in 2018.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey as part of Variety’s “Actors on Actors,” Newton discussed how she learned to let everything go to prepare for her next big role — and how she waited three weeks to find out she had gotten the gig.

Newton’s friend, casting director Nina Gold, had never cast her in anything over the span of their 20-year friendship. Then, Gold, who was casting the “Star Wars” franchise, called Newton to tell her about a part for the film.

“I just had these ideas of what it would be, you know, and it was completely different to everything I imagined and I’m so thrilled,” Newton said.

There has been little revealed about the still-untitled project — and Newton isn’t spilling a thing. (Agencies)

By Lindsey Bahr

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