WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE HORROR MOVIE IT COMES AT NIGHT
Opening in theaters this weekend is the latest thriller from A24, It Comes at Night, written/directed by Trey Edward Shults and starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, and Carmen Ejogo.
The film tells the story of a family avoiding a deadly infection by barricading themselves up in a cabin in the woods, only to be disturbed by an intruder (Abbott) claiming he's trying to find supplies for his own family. The two families attempt to unite forces, but in a world where trust means making yourself vulnerable to certain death, fear, and paranoia, begins to rip the families apart.
Far from being a standard infection thriller, the film begins after an infection has seemingly spread through all the major cities, which is roughly touched upon in the dialogue, but the full details of the infection are left up to the viewers. Some audiences could be frustrated by this, but Shults has made clear that it was always his intent to leave these elements unknown, as that's where a majority of the fear comes from. The marketing for the film has been just the right balance of intriguing and provocative, teasing the audience with the anxiety-inducing nature of the scenario which the characters have been thrown into.
Whether you've seen the film or not, the title might have intrigued you or made you think that, while watching the film, there's some sort of nocturnal threat. So what does it mean?
Shults has given a few responses to the title's relevance to the project. The simplest explanation, which he recently gave at a screening in Chicago, is that the title came to him early on in the writing process, before fully fleshing out all of the film's elements, and it stuck with him. If that description isn't specific enough, Shultz went on to share more info about how he finds the title relevant.
Travis, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., is the teenage son of Edgerton's Paul and Ejogo's Sarah. For all intents and purposes, he is the character that most represents the viewers, struggling to come to terms with the severity of the situation while also knowing he's in over his head. At night, Travis can't sleep, causing him to explore the home and eavesdrop on his family's visitors.
The filmmaker has expressed that "it" can also represent the moments in which Travis, or the audience, tries to get rest; but when looking back on the day's events, your own fear and anxiety begins to take over, festering in your mind like a disease. This means the title can be interpreted as fear/paranoia/anxiety is what "comes at night" for Travis and many other characters.
Another thing that occurred during the night is Travis hearing the new family's young son in a different room, investigating that the child must have been sleepwalking, so Travis takes his hand to bring him back to his parents. This ends up being the incident that drives the two families apart, as we know that physical contact can spread the disease.
The boy's parents are upset, as they don't know if Travis is infected, while Will and Sarah are upset, because they don't know if the boy is infected. Shortly after, the visiting family makes their escape at gunpoint, wanting nothing more to leave, as the audience hears their boy crying in agony.
Sadly, the departure doesn't go how either family has wanted, leading Will and Sarah to kill the other family, knowing that if that had nefarious motives, they could easily return to Will's house will reinforcements and take their resources. After killing the other family, Will and Sarah return home to discover Travis is infected, with the film ending on a shot of just Will and Sarah sitting at a kitchen table.
In the film's opening scene, Paul and Travis kill Travis' infected grandfather by shooting him in the head after making peace with him and burning the body. The implication of just Will and Sarah sitting at the family dinner table is that Travis has undergone the same eradication, as it was the only way to stop the spread of infection.
A big question about these final sequences is the ambiguity of whether Travis infected the boy, if the boy infected Travis, or if the boy was even infected at all. If you've come looking for the answer, you're out of luck, as the most effective elements of Shults' film are those that remain unknown. Whether or not the boy was infected or not has nothing to do with how the events transpired because what matters is Paul thought the boy could be infected, meaning he was worth killing.
What makes It Comes at Night such an effective thriller are all of the unanswered questions. Additionally, many horror movies feature characters who make decisions that the audience will chastise or mock the characters for, but the characters' biggest flaws were allowing themselves to trust strangers, while every other decision was done with the most logical motives of safety. This drives the point home that, even when you take every necessary precaution at every decision in your life, the unknown will always be out there, ready to pop its head out to destroy everything you know and love.