‘It Comes At Night’ Has An Ending That Will Haunt You

No spoilers

It Comes at Night, the new film from Trey Edward Shults, is being marketed as a horror movie. The terrifying trailers give the impression that two families, holed up in a house in the woods, are being stalked by an unseen creature. Even the title of the movie implies that It Comes at Night is a monster movie. But for those of you who caught Shults’ devastating debut, Krisha, a couple of years back, you won’t be surprised to know that, for Shults, the most terrifying thing imaginable is the human psyche, particularly when it’s under some form of duress.

It turns out that It Comes at Night has more in common with your typical zombie plague movie than any kind of monster flick. Set during an unspecified time, the film opens with a family being forced to kill one of their own after he’s been infected with a devastating virus. We quickly learn that despite the tranquil setting, the world we’ve been thrown into is a post-apocalyptic one, and this family, who wears gas masks whenever they leave the house, are survivors of a cataclysmic plague.

Paul, the patriarch of the family, which includes his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and teenage son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), is played by a bearded Joel Edgerton, a former history teacher who has evolved into a hyper-vigilant survivalist who will go to extreme lengths to protect his own. That brutality is on full display when Paul captures nighttime intruder named Will (Chris Abbott), ties him to a tree, places a bag over his head, and leaves him there, letting him wail into the night like a wounded animal. But because we’re led to believe that Paul is a “good person,” as Will tells him later, Paul lets Will explain himself, and we discover that Will, like Paul, is just trying to provide for his family. Eventually, the two men strike an agreement that will allow Will to bring his wife (Riley Keough) and young son (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to live with Paul and his family in the house where strict rules are enforced to keep potential threats away.

At first, the families coexist in what passes as harmony in a world where fear and paranoia are paramount, and this delicate balance is where Shults creates much of his tension. As the movie progresses, you start to sense that the real threat comes not from whatever may be lurking in the surrounding woods, but from within the confines of the labyrinthine house. As mistrust and doubt grow between Will and Paul, a sense of dread starts to accumulate, and a tragic outcome begins to feel inevitable.  

When that tragedy does arrive, it hits like a freight train. Shults wants viewers to ask themselves: To what lengths would you go to protect your family? To this, he provides no easy answers. Getting into specifics about what happens will spoil the maddening anxiety of watching it all unfold, but Keough, who is quickly proving to be one of her generation’s finest actresses, delivers one of the most gut-wrenching moments you’ll see on a movie screen this year. Her performance in that climactic moment, and this movie as a whole, will haunt you long after the final credits have rolled.