With everything from The Walking Dead to John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road, audiences have been inundated with a one bleak, dystopian tale after another in recent years.

And for good reason. Survival in a world beset by a mysterious sickness or an army of flesh-eaters is bound to make for compelling viewing, at least in some cases. With Trey Edward Shultz’s sophomore effort It Comes at Night, we’re once again introduced to a situation only possible when life as we know it screeches to a halt. It’s familiar yet refreshing, claustrophobic and haunting, and determined to defy expectations, for better or for worse.

Joel Edgerton portrays Paul, the head of a very small household. He, his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) inhabit a large boarded-up home in what could be rural upstate New York. Their days are spent finding the bare essentials and carefully protecting against some type of illness that appears to have ravaged modern society.

One day their home is broken into by a desperate man named Will (Christopher Abbott) who claims to be scavenging for his own wife and son. After some initial precautions, Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) join Paul’s family in their isolated fortress. For a short time blissful camaraderie blossoms between the two families, until Travis’ dog Stanley disappears in the woods one day while chasing… something.

Shultz has an undeniable knack for composing shots that seem to demand closer inspection. Travis’ lone wanderings about the cavernous home at night lend the film a primordial dread that’s unshakable. And Brian McOmber’s ominous score is unnerving for its lean yet pervasive structure. Like the best horror and thriller outings in recent years, Shultz dispensing with violence and instead weaves a chilling atmosphere of chiaroscuro and moral destitution.

As far as gloomy thrillers go, It Comes at Night exceeds many of its dystopian predecessors despite a fairly thin story and some lapses in logic. The craftsmanship is confident and accomplished and the performances, particularly Harrison Jr., are grim and hypnotic. But, overall, it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of that astoundingly effective title.

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