The scariest thing is not knowing. Not knowing why the old man is sick. Not knowing why they have to burn his body. Not knowing why they don’t go out at night. Not knowing who’s breaking into the house. Not knowing if he’s telling the truth. Not knowing.
This is the greatness of It Comes At Night, a movie that gives us no easy answers to our questions, and forces us to piece together exactly what’s happening at any given time.
We begin with the old man. He’s the grandfather of the family and he’s sick with some mysterious disease, one that causes boils and vomiting blood. We know that whatever this disease is is heavily contagious, as the family will only interact with him while wearing gas masks. But we know little more. Where did this disease come from? How far has it spread? We see the family—a man, a woman, and their teenage son—hole up in their house, with just one exit, behind two locked doors. Where is everyone else? What has happened in the world to cause them to be so afraid of going out?
We have so many questions. Some of them are answered as time goes on, some of them are not. But It Comes At Night is a horror movie is the truest sense, with the terror belonging to what we don’t see, rather than what we do. Our characters have no reason to provide us with helpful exposition—after all, they’re living this horror, they don’t need to talk to each other about it. And while we may spend time expecting some kind of grand twist, that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because of the atmosphere, a feeling of great dread of what could be coming next. It’s not about what might jump out from around the corner, it’s about what may already be in plain sight.