Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - Kim new­man Verdict Full of char­ac­ter-based sus­pense, it’s dra­matic and ramped-up with ten­sion. ex­ist­ing be­tween a Sun­dance and a Fright­fest film, this is a chal­leng­ing, hor­ri­bly plau­si­ble fu­ture vi­sion.

Di­rec­tor Trey Ed­ward Shults CAST Joel Edger­ton, Christo­pher Ab­bott, Car­men Ejogo, Kelvin Har­ri­son Jr, Ri­ley Keough

plot In an Amer­ica de­pop­u­lated by a vir­u­lent dis­ease, sur­vival­ist Paul (Edger­ton) lives in a re­mote home with wife Sarah (Ejogo) and son Travis (Har­ri­son Jr). When Will (Ab­bott), a stranger, breaks in, Paul ac­cepts him, his wife Kim (Keough) and young child into the house­hold.

AFTER THE APOC­A­LYPSE, movie char­ac­ters have a hard choice to make: take to the road — as in Mad Max 2 or The Road — or hole up in a for­ti­fied en­clave, as here. Nei­ther op­tion is ideal, and the col­lapse of so­ci­ety al­ways means strangers aren’t to be trusted — but, then again, nei­ther are close fam­ily mem­bers, or pets.

It Comes At Night is low-key, and yet also sus­pense­ful. The ap­proach is so calm and quiet that you find your­self strain­ing to hear ev­ery sug­ges­tive creak on the sound­track or spot­ting an omen in the back­ground. Is that a tree or a twisted hu­man fig­ure in the mid-dis­tance as the pro­tag­o­nist drives through the woods? Was that tiny in­con­sis­tency in a stranger’s ac­count of life be­fore the cri­sis an hon­est slip or a crack in a sin­is­ter cover story?

By not go­ing into the de­tails of the out­break that has wiped out most of hu­man­ity, It Comes At

Night plays more as a hor­ror film than a sci­encefic­tion one. What ex­actly is the “it” of the ti­tle? The blood-borne plague? Para­noia? Some­thing worse? The de­pic­tion of hard­scrab­ble life amid threat­en­ing woods evokes the his­tor­i­cal hor­ror of The Witch, while the fo­cus on the ex­treme, not-al­ways-pop­u­lar mea­sures taken by the pa­tri­arch to en­sure the sur­vival of his tight-knit fam­ily group sug­gests a less melo­dra­matic take on 10 Clover­field Lane — though the ruth­less mid­dle-class fa­ther has been a re­cur­rent fig­ure in apoc­a­lypse cinema since Ray Mil­land shot beat­niks after the bomb fell in 1962’s Panic In

Year Zero!. The usual question that arises is whether the reg­i­mented, para­noid, iso­lated life that can be main­tained by shoot­ing at pass­ing strangers or eu­thanis­ing (and in­cin­er­at­ing) ail­ing rel­a­tives is worth sur­viv­ing for.

While Joel Edger­ton’s pre­pared­ness ad­vo­cate Paul — with his dou­ble locks, poly­thene wall-hang­ings, bat­tery lamps, gas masks, fresh­wa­ter stock­pile and strict rules of con­duct — isn’t the mon­ster John Good­man played in

10 Clover­field Lane, there’s a sense that he takes grim sat­is­fac­tion in the way the end of the world puts him in a po­si­tion of ab­so­lute power in his home. Edger­ton, who also pro­duced, gives one of his best per­for­mances here with­out be­ing at all showy. Ev­ery­one else has to play off him — and be wary of his char­ac­ter. Though Paul can in­tro­duce quar­an­tine mea­sures, he can’t stop his nearly grown son (Har­ri­son Jr, in a po­ten­tial break­out turn) from suf­fer­ing grue­some night­mares — or con­sider what the sight of the stranger’s young wife (Keough) will stir in the iso­lated ado­les­cent.

Writer-di­rec­tor Trey Ed­ward Shults made the in­die re­la­tion­ships drama Kr­isha — cast mostly with his own fam­ily — and car­ries his in­ter­est in the ten­sions within a close-knit group over to It Comes At Night. It’s not a film built on spec­ta­cle. In­stead, it homes in on the stresses of get­ting by, day to day, in a world where trust feels un­likely. Or even im­pos­si­ble.

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