It Comes at Night is a post-apocalyptic horror movie, and is the sophomore effort by writer-director Trey Edward Shults, who won acclaim for his dark family drama, Krisha.
Billed as a mystery/thriller, It Comes At Night (review) follows a small, blighted family. “Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, the tenuous order a man (Joel Edgerton) has established with his wife and son is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate family 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.”
Dread Central: Even though it seems the studio or publicity department is shying away from the horror genre, we think horror fans will enjoy It Comes at Night. How do you see it?
Trey Edward Shults: That’s a great question and I will say, just from my point of view and where they come from, especially with Krisha [being called a horror movie], I didn’t approach it like this is a horror movie. I just approached it about this woman and her experience and I want to be honest to it and my experience with it and how it affected my family. You know with Krisha, it started with a lot of things, because my family suffered with addiction for a long time. But in particular there was a family reunion where my cousin relapsed and I remember the feeling I felt because of everything with my dad, and everything else, was dread and sheer terror. I remember how awkward I was. I didn’t want to move, I just sat there and I didn’t want any eye contact. It was like a good horror film or something, it was that pit of your stomach dread and the anxiety that I felt, so naturally when I was making the movie I wanted to be honest with that emotion and let you feel that emotion. With Night, it was never really ever about… I mean it was because you can’t think about these things. The core of Night came from personal stuff. It was my dad’s death and how I was with him on his death bed. He was wracked with regret with the life he had led and it was one of the most devastating things I’d gone through. My life is different ever since then. I started writing this two months after that, and it started with that opening scene: what Sarah says to her dad, that’s what I said to mine. Obviously after that it goes into a fictional narrative, but what I hope comes through in the movie is, I wrote the movie in grief and I think the movie is about fear and death and your own mortality and loss and regret and family. I think I wanted those emotions to come through in this fictional narrative, to speak to what it’s really about phonetically and for whatever reason, that once again led to horror. I don’t consider this a traditional horror movie, but it led to this subject matter and yeah, I guess me confronting my own fears and how that felt, bringing that truth to the film.
DC: Was it ultimately cathartic, making this film?
TES: I think that stuff comes in waves. The first draft of it kind of spewed out of me in three days, sobbing and everything else, that was super cathartic. This movie, where it stems from, the demon in me that I had to purge, to get out or something, yeah… I do know that on this side of things, I’m very happy to be done with the movie. I’m ready for something new and totally different. I killed myself making this movie. I saw a picture of me before production and I saw one now and I looked worse, like I had aged five years. I’m like Travis in the movie, I’m a night owl, my mind is so active at night, that’s when I think about all this stuff.
DC: In Krisha, you directed your family members. What was it like making a feature with all professional actors, whom you did not have a previous relationship with?
TES: One thing, obviously it was a conscious choice, I didn’t want my family in this movie. I wanted a new challenge. And I don’t think there are any roles for my family in this one anyway, but that was always the conscious choice. I was very adamant and it was important to me that I feel like I’m working with good humans, good people that hopefully want to try and make something special, and go on this little journey together. It started with Joel, he was the first cast, and everything led from that. But even that first meeting, which I was fortunate enough to have him have any interest in this movie, I was already a huge fan of his work. He’s good people. You can feel that, and I brought that through to every person in the process, to where when we went on this together, I wanted us to come together as a family, wanted us all to embark on this journey. Now that I’m on the other side of it, it was really not that different. Also, my Aunt Krisha, who’s the lead in my first film, she’s an incredible actress. And so I don’t know Joel or Kelvin or Riley like my aunt, but I still hopefully know somehow how to work with an actor. It was different and a new challenge and I won’t lie, leading into it, the first day of shooting I was very nervous. It took a second to get around to it, but by the end of the first week we felt like a family, which was really the goal. I had a great time making it.
DC: One of my favorite things about It Comes at Night was its score. Who’s the composer, and how did you initially connect?
TES: My composer is Brian McOmber. I think he’s crazy talented. He did the music for my first feature Krisha, and he did the music for the short film version of the movie Krisha. That’s actually how we met. I was a fan of his and found his email, and he actually responded to me. I sent him the short and he dug it and wanted to do the music, and I was like, ‘We have to do the feature together.’ And that was so great, and then of course we had to do this one together. I think I rely, and Brian would say this for sure, I rely way too heavily on temp music. It is just so great to help a movie flow and function, so I like live by it, but that can put you in a creative disadvantage when you start doing the score for the movie, so instead of just trying to rip off the temp, you have to come up with something original, which Brian is very adamant about. We like to just start from scratch, start with… he will find a super talented person. But you’ve got to start from the ground up, so with this, the very beginning was picking random people and just letting them jam out, like playing images of a movie and just jam the music and make a lot of it. Then Brian will re-edit that and play with that and get it to picture. That’s the beginning, then it continues to shape and shape until we really figure it out by the end of it. I think what comes through with this, that was different for us, apart from instrumentation and everything, just how we use themes and subtlety have a difference between nightmare and reality sounds and how we let those converge once reality has become a nightmare later in the movie. I can go on and on talking about it but I’m with you: the scores great.
DC: What can we expect next from you?
TES: Well I do have something that’s really personal to me, like Night, images in my head for a while before they clicked. It was my dad’s death which clicked for Night, with this new movie it was sort of love and my relationships, love and hate and that dichotomy. I’m still trying to write it but it’s sort of like a family over a year, a brother and a sister and these two halves of a story split it, these kids in high school. In the first half there’s a downward spiral and a tragedy, and the second half is upward and out of that. I kind of want it to flow like a piece of music, movies like Good Fellas or Boogie Nights, where they almost flow like a musical. It has those elements of Night, just the tension and some of the tragedy. For me it’s just a case by case thing and I think it’s interesting too, now that I’ve made Night after Krisha, and I didn’t realize it but some people consider Krisha a horror movie. I don’t know if people think I’m a horror genre guy or something. I know for me I don’t think that way, even though I love horror movies, but it’s just a case by case basis. I’m only going to make stuff that I care about and believe in with all my heart and hope they find the people they’re meant to find. Not everyone is going to dig them, but I will just try and do what I can do, so we’ll see. I hope that movie is next.
It Comes at Night hits theaters everywhere on June 9, 2017. Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbot, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., star.
Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son, but this will soon be put to test when a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.