I was a huge, huge fan of Shults’ first movie, Krisha. It was a micro-budget family drama (of a kind) that followed a recovering alcoholic and the devastation she leaves in her wake when she attends a family Thanksgiving. It felt very much like a horror movie; the dissonant, strange score, the uncomfortable, unsettling close-ups, the claustrophobic, confused atmosphere – it all added up to an incredibly unsettling and discomfiting theatrical experience. So I was thrilled when I found out Shults’ second film was going to be specifically in the horror genre. Unfortunately, It Comes at Night has none of the weight of Krisha and is probably my biggest cinematic disappointment of the year so far. The story is simple. A husband, wife & son are holed up in a house in the woods as some vague contagion sweeps the outside world; when another husband, wife & child show up, the moral decisions become complicated. The performances are fine, particularly by Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo (an actress I’m becoming more and more impressed by with every movie I see her in). But the film meanders about fairly plotlessly and the film keeps a strange remove from the characters; it’s odd to see Shults keep us at arm’s length from his characters, given just how raw the emotions were in Krisha. The film wants us to feel dread and claustrophobia as we slowly discover that there’s something out there in the woods, something that draws close to the house in the night. And the film wrings a couple of suspenseful moments out of this, but there’s absolutely no pay-off to this plot thread. I understand that Shults is using the “thing in the woods” as a metaphor for things like death, fear, dread, etc., and I’m not wishing that we had some huge CGI monster rampaging through the woods, but it feels less like restraint and more like laziness that he never even attempts to create anything within the world of the movie to actually embody this fear. Yes, what’s unseen is often more frightening but what the movie does that’s inexcusable, in my opinion, is to eventually just decide to drop the plot-thread as if it never happened; it simply stops being important and, even if the big It of the title remains vague and mostly unseen, it still needs a level of resolution within the film. As it stands, I’m a guy who likes a slower pace and a less explicit kind of horror, but this film shows that both of these things can go too far. There’s no suspense, no energy, no real fear or tension; and we aren’t even allowed to care about the characters, so the whole thing feels like a pointless exercise. It Comes at Night is a disappointment on just about every level. Shults seems to be shooting for being as minimal as possible and still retaining the trappings of a horror film, but unfortunately he shoots right past that mark. The most disturbing, frightening thing about It Comes at Night is the uncomfortable feeling that Shults might be a one-hit wonder. 2 stars.
tl;dr – erstwhile thriller can’t summon the energy or conviction to muster up any suspense or fear; meandering, pointless plot & characters you can’t care about add up to a lackluster film. 2 stars.