It Comes at Night ✮✮✮

Behind the Red Door

by Glenn Lovell

What price survival? Is it worth sacrificing one’s humanity for the sake of a loved one? In the post-apocalyptic near-future, as we hunker down in our well-stocked subterranean shelter, should we ignore the cries at the door because, as we’ve long been taught, canned peaches will feed only so many … and family, of course, comes first?

In the Cold War ’60s, TV’s “Twilight Zone” dramatized variations on this scenario on what seemed an almost weekly basis. More recently, Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” set in the ash-gray aftermath of some catastrophic event, considered the increasingly callow means by which a father protects his son from falling trees and foraging cannibals. For all his efforts, father can’t stave off the inevitable.  He does, however, tap into something dark and fundamental; he unleashes the inner beast, if you will.

Despite the exploitive, snicker-worthy title, “It Comes at Night” mines some of these dour forebodings. Barricaded inside a large country house deep in the woods, a former schoolteacher (Aussie Joel Edgerton at his edgiest) and wife (Carmen Ejogo) attack their daily routine with wan determination. Their key goal: to shield teen-age son Travis (Kevin Harrison Jr.) from the plague-like contagion that has just claimed the boy’s beloved grandfather. Travis, however, like the boy in “The Road,” is less frightened of the infection than in a Nightworld without companionship.

So when an interloper swears he means them no harm — he only wants to barter food for shelter for his wife and infant son — Travis is quick to believe the guy. And Dad? He’s naturally skeptical. Still, he goes against his instincts and makes room for the young parents (well-played by Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough of “Mad Max: Fury Road”).

That’s about it in terms of plot. Directed and written by Trey Edward Shults, who demonstrated a penchant for tense, claustrophobic drama with “Krisha,” which turned heads at Sundance, this sophomore effort proves a grim little cautionary fable that relies on mood, character development and performance, not “Walking Dead” gore effects. And that’s to its credit. Shot in upstate New York, it compares nicely to such serious-minded meditations on Cold War paranoia and mass hysteria as Frank Perry’s “Ladybug Ladybug” and Lynne Littman’s “Testament,” taken from a Carol Amen story. Anyone who goes looking for stock chills will be disappointed.

The film’s crowning irony: Travis’s nightmares are more graphic and disturbing than anything that lies beyond the reinforced red door. They’re fueled by his overly protective parents, the real threat.

IT COMES AT NIGHT ✮✮✮ With Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough. Directed, written by Trey Edward Shults. 91 min. Rated R (for profanity, violence, disturbing images)

 

 

 

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