Humans are generally a trusting species, with most people willing to make new friends and help strangers in times of need. But there are times when questions linger about whether a nice decision was the right one to make, and the film “It Comes At Night” wrings maximum tension out of just such a quandary.    

The movie opens starkly, with an immediate and grim scenario in which an elderly man is gasping for his last breaths and displaying strange splotches on his skin. The muffled voice of his daughter Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) is heard off-screen as she tells him to let himself pass away, before she is revealed wearing a gas mask and gloves.

Her husband Paul (Joel Edgerton) and teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison) are also in protective gear, and within moments they are taking him outside to die.  

It’s never made clear what Sarah’s father was sick with, but it soon is revealed that the illness is highly contagious and has likely wiped out nearly every human on the planet. Paul and his family are hiding out in a large house deep in a forest, and are reduced to grinding out each uncertain day living as if they’re in frontier times.

Then one night noises are heard deep in the house, and a gun-toting Paul finds a fellow father named Will (Christopher Abbott) inside with a gun of his own. After a tense confrontation, Will swears that he and his family are not infected and begs Paul to exchange some of his water for food.

Susan goes one better, convincing Paul to take Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) in with them because forming a sense of community will make life safer and saner. It seems like a nice idea, but soon subtle tensions arise as each man has to walk the fine line between the mutual trust and friendship needed to survive, being on their toes about any sign their families might endanger each other.

Writer-director Trey Edward Shults masterfully induces claustrophobia in the viewer, with the dark hallways of Paul’s house filled with closed doors and its characters seeming to wall their true thoughts and emotions inside themselves as well. The woods outside are expansive, but also filled with the dread of uncertainty and the sense that it would be a bad idea to venture very far from the homestead.

That Shults and his tightly wound cast are able to convey that fear of the unseen unknown as expertly as if a killer, a monster or a wave of zombies were visibly coming toward them makes the film unique amid the bombastic blockbusters that fill the summer season. Yet when tensions unexpectedly simmer and explode, he shows that sometimes the most frightening monster is our own sense of self-preservation. It’s at that point that “Night” becomes a well-made but unmistakable downer.

In addition to starring as Paul, Edgerton served as the film’s executive producer, playing a key part in attracting the financing for this dark and challenging film. Combined with his work as writer-director and co-star of the superb 2015 thriller “The Gift,” which also mined issues of trust with tension, it is clear he has a fascination with exploring human nature amid dire circumstances.

Such psychological insights can be invaluable qualities in an age when most films fade quickly from memory. Yet while the film is undeniably well-made, its outlook is so dark it crosses the line into making viewers feel more miserable than enlightened or entertained.   Grade: C

 

Capsule Reviews

THE MUMMY

Stars: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella

Length: 110 minutes

Directed by: Alex Kurtzman

Rating: PG-13

Tom Cruise’s latest attempt to find a blockbuster outside the “Mission:Impossible” franchise is a muddled mess, as he plays a rogue soldier stealing exotic antiquities who inadvertently unearths and unleashes an evil, mummified Egyptian princess. Cruise almost makes it work until the last half hour, when the movie completely falls apart. It should have stayed buried.   Grade: D

WONDER WOMAN

Stars:  Gal Gadot, Chris Pine

Length: 141 minutes

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Rating: PG13

The first superhero movie centered on a female superhero brings a fresh perspective to the genre, with director Patty Jenkins adding an impressive level of thought, heart and humor to the terrific action and visuals as Wonder Woman teams with a British spy to stop a nefarious German plan and an evil force amid World War I. Fun and expertly made on every level, it’s a must see. Grade: A

BAYWATCH

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron

Length: 116 minutes

Directed by: Seth Gordon

Rating: R

The big-screen adaptation of one of TV’s most inexplicably popular and utterly stupid series ever attempts to bring a knowing sense of humor by casting Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, but its unfunny mix of grossout raunch and serious attempts at action combine with an asinine plot about stopping a villainous club owner’s drug deals to make this one of the worst movies in years.
Grade: F

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING

Stars: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose

Length: 96 minutes

Directed by: Stella Meghie

Rating: PG-13

This teen romance about a girl who has an immune-system disorder that has trapped her inside her house for 15 years and the new boy next door whose attraction to her makes her test her boundaries has cute lead performances and the young target audience giggled and swooned at a screening, but the claustrophobic story ultimately goes nowhere and has a maddeningly ridiculous twist ending.  Grade: D

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

Stars: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem

Length: 129 minutes

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Rating: PG-13

The fifth film in the series has Captain Jack Sparrow teaming with the son of Will Turner, a female accused of witchcraft and his crew in a race to find the mythical trident of Poseidon before his nemesis Captain Salazar, and break a slew of curses. The setpieces are often funny and the finale visually spectacular, but Depp is hanging on to this series as a source of treasure more than inspiration.  Grade: B