The symbolism associated with a red door goes back through the history of stories, with its intrinsic links to danger, the beyond and further beyond. In the opening moments of writer/director Trey Edward Shults’ mysterious horror/thriller, we are presented with such a symbol, a warning sign right from the off that this one is going to take us down some dark, ominous alleys, figuratively, before our time with it is up. And that’s just scratching the surface of one of this year’s most intriguing horror films.
A dark, dreary night in a murky wood is suddenly interrupted by the sounds of whole and total screams of agony. For the first few moments, everything is disorientated, purposefully so, as we begin to see streaks of light amongst the wilderness. Soon, we see a body being transported via a wheelbarrow further into the darkness being pushed by another person who seems intent on disposing of his “cargo” in double quick time. A second person joins him as they move towards a large dug hole in the muddy terrain below to dispose of the body, with a sharp, blinding light and instantly it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems – for this body is riddled with disease and must be discarded immediately.
The body, as it transpires, is linked to some sort of outbreak on the human race, of which the effects on the outside world are unknown. So bad and seemingly potent is the epidemic that local man Paul (Edgerton) and his wife (Ejogo) and son (Harrison Jnr) have begun a life of being barricaded in their home to try to fend off the attacks, surviving on food rations to get them through day by day. But their erratic way of living is shaken further when a man (Abbott) manages to get into the house and he and his family disrupt their already fraught way of life.
And so begins a tense and unpredictable film that will immediately make you wonder just what you would do in a similar circumstance and how fear and paranoia can make even the kindest and most gentle person amongst us turn just a little bit nuts. Shults’ remarkable film, small in scale but huge in danger, is a focused, terrifying look at social and economic anxiety as well as a textured look at human behaviour.
There is a genuine, heart-wrenching terror to be found here but save for a couple of moments of blood splatters, this is all in the psychology and it’s perhaps this type that is the most relentless unnerving of them all. His company, too, are in fine form with each excelling throughout the film – special mention to Edgerton, who is on tip-top form once more, as is Riley Keough but it’s the fascinating, nuanced performance from Kelvin Harrison Jnr that is the film’s shining star.
While many will be expecting a film with an “outbreak” as one of its main plot points to come with certain facets, this isn’t about that at all. Substituting gore for real, brutal tension, It Comes At Night is both fascinating study into humanity and an intense, heart-pounding film that gets under your skin almost immediately. Beautifully shot, edited and performed, it joins Get Out, Split and Berlin Syndrome in continuing the brilliant run of thrillers we have been treated to this year – as if 2017 could get any tenser.