• by Wes Singleton

It Comes at Night, B

Rated R, 97 minutes

The intense psychological horror film "It Comes at Night" is both well-balanced and terrifying, even when you don't always know what the "it" is in its title. From director and writer Trey Edward Shults ("Krisha"), "It Comes at Night" isn't perfect, but is still a well-acted, taut look at protecting your family from outside terrors.

Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the outside world, the tenuous order, Paul (Joel Edgerton of "Loving") has established with his wife Sarah ("Selma's" Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis ("The Birth of a Nation's" Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate family ("Girls" Christopher Abbott and "American Honey's" Riley Keough) seeking refuge. Despite the best intentions of both families, paranoia and mistrust boil over as the horrors outside creep ever-closer, awakening something hidden and monstrous within the man as he learns that the protection of his family comes at the cost of his soul.

"It Comes At Night" isn't your typical horror film: on one hand, it's a restrained character study revolving around family, on the other, an unnerving look at the unknown, and how paranoid not knowing can make us. Slow-moving and peppered with some typical horror film cliches - what is it that draws people to go down into a dark basement or out into the woods, alone? - it still will leave you with the question - what is "it?" anyway?

Shults has a superb way of building his camera around dark edges and blurring those edges so you're uncertain if it's real or not, and most importantly, around his talented cast. Edgerton and Abbott, as the men protecting their families, are solid, and their final, tragic battle for protection will come at a heavy price for both families. Ejogo and Keough both cast a warm presence as the wives, but the most memorable is a touching turn from Kelvin Harrison, as young Travis, seemingly caught in the middle of it all, and it's his sleeplessness that forms the basis for many of the movie's most terrifying moments (but dude, really, a dark basement).

More than its intensity, "It Comes at Night" is affecting, but also casts a depressing, even baffling presence (especially that ending). Ultimately, it's not about winning or losing, but who loses the most.

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