What’s Here is Scarier

It Comes at Night, the new horror film from A24, recalls another indie thriller, Right at Your Door. While they’re both billed as traditional horror/terror films, they actually thrive as moral dramas, a test of hospitality and vulnerability in a hostile world.

Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) live in a large house in the woods. They’re all alone now that they’ve just, quite literally, put Sarah’s father out to pasture after he fell victim to the virus that has apparently taken over the country. Their home is boarded up and secluded, so you’d forgive newcomer Will (Christopher Abbott) for believing it’s abandoned. Paul catches him trying to steal food and water, ties him to a tree, and interrogates him over two days. Paul’s first fear is that Will has exposed his family to the virus, but Will claims that he and his family aren’t sick and that he’s just trying to provide for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). As Paul takes Will back to his wife and son, the two are attacked. Fending off their attackers, the two form a bond, and Paul invites Will and his family to move in with them. The two families get on well together, but their peaceful commune is soon torn apart by paranoia, fear, and greed.

Two terrors.

Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, what It Comes at Night lacks in the jump scares that satisfy horror fans, it makes up for with terrifying, subjective cinematography. Most of the traditional horror sequences in the film are channeled, primarily, through Travis’ insomnia, which adds an interesting narrative twist to the film. As viewers, we’re never quite sure if his nighttime horrors are real or if they’re illusions fueled by Paul and Sarah’s paranoia. By the end of the film, we’re left with questions about the rest of their experience. Did Sarah’s father fall victim to the virus or was it something else altogether…and not even contagious?

It Comes at Night reveals the dangers inherent in viewing existence, culture, society as a zero sum game. Think of Paul and his family as group of people (Americans or Europeans, for example) and Will and his family as refugees, and you basically have a vision of our current global crisis. Cast the house and its provisions as healthcare or some other contested human right (or “privilege”), and you have a vision of conservative America in which paranoia, fear, and greed are far more real–and terrifying–than the perceived “monsters” outside our door.

It Comes at Night (91 mins.) is rated R for violence, disturbing images, and language and is in theaters everywhere tonight.