Though its cataclysm is global, this high-concept monster movie works by narrowing the focus. Just as the human characters try to cut out noise, by going barefoot and sprinkling sand over every path, director John Krasinski (who also co-stars and writes) and writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck eliminate almost all of the frills to concentrate on delivering one suspense set-piece built on another.
A prologue establishes how ruthless the film is willing to be, and then we pick up over a year into the apocalypse as a competent, intelligent, desperate family man (Krasinski) tries to keep things together in his little kingdom, knowing that even the most negligible dropped clanger will attract toothsome, long-armed creatures with avocado-skinned skulls which are composed entirely of inner-ear architecture and teeth. Are they aliens? Vampires? Alien vampires? If the characters could have abstract conversations, maybe they’d wonder — but instead they can exchange only the barest essential dialogue, mostly by sign language.
While Krasinski comes across as the caring survivalist, keeping one of several fires burning in the valley, his pregnant wife Emily Blunt represents a hope for the future — though the imminent prospect of soundproofing a baby’s crib suggests a hard road ahead. While Noah Jupe is strong as the decent, young son, the standout performer here is hearing-impaired Millicent Simmonds — from Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck — as the family’s deaf daughter, whose particular issues dovetail unsettlingly with the approach of the monsters she can’t hear coming.
Most end-of-the-world dramas hinge on mistrust and friction among the survivors, which was seemingly the actual cause of the end of the world in It Comes At Night, but this is a rare genre film built around a family bond that holds fast. A misunderstanding between father and daughter has to be got past, as Dad tinkers with a soldering iron and scavenged hearing aids to help the girl. And there’s enough drama to be had from a nail dangerously stuck out of stairs, a plunge into a grain silo, a night-time rat-run through a monster-infested cornfield, a sudden basement flood that draws a creature to the sound of gushing water, and an encounter with a mad old neighbour driven to the point when he just has to screw up his face and scream.
Krasinski has a longer CV as an actor than as director — he was in the US version of The Office and is Jack Ryan in a forthcoming TV series — but establishes himself here as a sure hand with the mechanics of nerve-shredding.