It Comes At Night, the new horror film from writer-director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha), is a study on paranoia wrapped up in a pseudo-zombie apocalypse. The movie follows the journey of two families living in a strange, apocalyptic world where mankind has been devastated by a mysterious and highly contagious illness. But the disease itself isn't the real threat explored in the film. Instead, as stars Riley Keough and Christopher Abbott explain, It Comes At Night is about the fear of other people, and the violent ways in which that fear can manifest itself.
During a recent interview in New York, the actors agree that what makes It Comes At Night a scary movie isn't the threat of death from disease, but how easily seemingly good people can turn on each other. "That's exactly what this movie is," Keough says when I ask about how the film uses its dystopian setting to shine a light on paranoia and skepticism. "And it's a really big problem with the human mind. It's like witch hunting all the time."
"How you're able to kind of create your own reality and believe it is scary," Abbott adds. And it's not just the distrust between the characters that makes the film create the uneasy atmosphere of horror; it's the distrust between the audience and those characters, too. The film is told mainly from the perspective of Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), but, as Abbott points out, it could just be these characters' flawed version of reality that audiences are seeing.
In the film, Keough and Abbott play Kim and Will, a married couple who, along with their young son, move into another family's secluded home in the woods to escape certain death. At first, the other family — Paul (Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and son Travis (Harrison Jr.) — seem to be the couple's saving grace, but things quickly take a turn as the tension between the two families rises. Paul turns on Will the second he feels Will and Kim are a threat, and his desire to protect his family at all costs is, according to Abbott, what makes the film scary. "Is he [Joel] really being a good man and protecting his family? Or is his fear driving himself into this spiral, or an abyss of his making of his own reality?," the actor asks. "That's what I find really scary about the film. To me, that's horror."
Despite the film fulfilling Abbott's definition of terror, the star says he didn't feel like he was shooting a scary movie while on set. "It really didn't feel like a horror film in a way. It really felt like we were shooting a bit of a drama." In a sense, that's the perfect way to describe It Comes At Night: a family drama with a dash of horror. Come for the apocalyptic threat, stay for the intimate tension and crippling paranoia.