Imagine the end of the world. Now imagine something worse.
Award-winning filmmaker Trey Edward Shults follows his breakout debut Krisha with the psychological horror thriller It Comes at Night, centering on a teenaged boy (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) as he grapples with mounting terrors — external and otherwise — in the aftermath of an unnamed cataclysm.
Secure within a desolate home with his vigilant, protective and heavily armed parents (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo), 17-year-old Travis navigates fear, grief and paranoia amid scarce resources as a desperate young couple (Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough) seeks refuge in his family home with their young child.
Despite the best intentions of both families, panic and mistrust boil over as the horrors of the outside world creep ever closer. But they are nothing compared to the horrors within, where Travis discovers that his father’s commitment to protecting the family may cost him his soul.
It Comes at Night will be released this summer, but some attendees of the Overlook Film Festival were lucky enough to catch the world premiere, a screening billed only as “secret.” The title was announced to enormous applause, silenced only by the dimming lights and production logos flashing on the screen.
The film is a return to the subject of family for Shults. The film opens on the mercy killing of an elderly family member as they are assured that they don’t have to keep fighting and can let go. In a post-screening Q&A Shults divulged that this open was the first thing he wrote. The affliction of said family member, and the virus of the film, was inspired by the black plague.
Shults previous film, Krisha also explores these themes over the course of a Thanksgiving weekend. This film was notable for his casting of family members as key roles, essentially blending a home video with a deep psychological horror. It Comes at Night is an equally personal and intimate experience.
The cast for It Comes at Night is decidedly different from Krisha, as it came to the table with a bit more experience. Joel Edgerton has previously appeared in The Great Gatsby and Loving, while his on-screen son (Harrison, Jr.) appeared in The Birth of a Nation.
For the film Shults pulled deeply from his own experiences with family. “I’m drawing from heavy personal experiences and placing it into a fictional narrative, hoping the same emotions come through. At its heart, this is a movie about mortality.” Further to that point, he clarified in the Q&A that the red door (as can be seen in the trailer) was a simple summary of the film, serving as a portal to confrontation.
Shults began writing It Comes at Night in between Krisha’s, yearlong transformation from short film (which premiered at South By Southwest in 2014) to feature-length debut, which premiered the following year. In that period of time, he lost his father, whose long battle with addiction had been an inspiration on Krisha’s character. A seven-year estrangement led to a deathbed reconciliation with his father, which in turn became a powerful inspiration for the filmmaker’s subsequent feature. “He was full of regret for the way he had lived his life, all I could do was try and help him find peace before he died,” Shults explains. “It fed into my own fears about mortality. My biggest fear is being on my deathbed with regrets.” These concerns led to Shults probing larger ideas of parent/child relationships, and thinking about how a younger generation can transcend what they see as the mistakes and drawbacks of their parents.
Another concern was finding a way to move on from the tragedy of losing a parent, a personal reflection that came to haunt the film. It Comes at Night opens with the indelible image of an elderly man being comforted on his deathbed by his daughter Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) before he is ferried to a gravesite in the forest and executed by the family patriarch, Paul (Joel Edgerton). His body is dumped in a shallow grave and burned while Sarah and Travis watch mournfully from a distance. “What Sarah says to her father before Paul puts him out of his misery to protect the family is exactly what I said to my father as he was dying,” Shults explains. “The rest of the movie sprung out of that singular image.”
It Comes at Night will see a wide release June 9th, 2017.