“It Comes at Night” is a movie of indistinct voices heard muttering behind walls, of night rooms illuminated by harsh lantern light, of a mysterious locked red front door at the end of a long dark corridor.
It’s set in an solitary house deep in tangled woods where unseen menaces lurk. And somewhere out beyond the woods, is a world wracked by an unnamed plague.
The setting suggests a cross between “The Blair Witch Project” and “Evil Dead” pictures, but except for a few brief jolting moments, writer-director Trey Edward Shults prefers to purvey a sense of pervasive unease rather than hair-raising horror.
The occupants of that isolated house, a father, Paul (Joel Edgerton); a mother, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their 17-year-old son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), live an armed and wary existence.
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Paul, a survivalist, has turned the house into a fortress. Strangers are unwelcome. He lives by the motto, “You can’t trust anyone but family,” so when a desperate stranger named Will (Christopher Abbott) comes pounding on that red door one day begging for help, Paul’s paranoia kicks into overdrive.
But because Will is himself a family man with a wife, Kim (Riley Keough); and toddler son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), Paul’s wariness abates somewhat, and the two families learn to live together amicably.
For a while.
But when Travis is beset by horrifying nightmares and is unsettled by certain adolescent stirrings in the presence of Will’s pretty wife Kim, the truce frays and paranoia kicks back into gear.
Edgerton gives the strongest performance as the fiercely protective Paul while Harrison makes Travis a figure of conflicted anguish.
With all of Shults’ dark-night-of-the-soul mood manipulations, “It Comes at Night” promises more than it delivers. Its buildups are impressive, but in the end its frights are mild.
☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Riley Keough
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Rated R (for violence, disturbing images, and language)