Found-footage movies have been a staple of horror cinema for years.
“It Comes at Night,” though, feels like the start of a new genre: the lost-footage movie.
The psychological thriller, about two families struggling to survive an unnamed apocalypse, is basically an M. Night Shyamalan release that’s missing a twist, a big reveal or, really, even an ending.
A mysterious illness is sweeping the planet, or at least New York City. It’s hard to say. Information is scarce, for the characters and the audience.
Before you even know why, Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his 17-year-old son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), load Travis’ sickly grandfather into a wheelbarrow and push it into the woods, where Paul shoots him in the head, wraps the body in a tarp, shoves it in a pit and sets it on fire, sending black smoke billowing into the trees.
From that point on, Travis is ravaged by nightmares.
He’s even more unsettled when a stranger (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their heavily fortified home in search of food for his starving wife (Riley Keough) and young son. After tying the intruder, who says his name is Will, to a tree overnight, Paul eventually believes his story and invites Will’s family to move into his home. After all, they can pool their scarce resources, and there’s strength in numbers.
Still, Paul warns his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and Travis, “You can’t trust anybody but family, as good as they may seem.”
Cooped up alongside strangers, with mounting fears of what’s happening outside their locked doors, anxiety and paranoia soon set in. And writer-director Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”) does a fine job of establishing a creepily foreboding atmosphere. But throughout its brief 97-minute run time, “It Comes at Night” seems to be building to something that simply isn’t there. If movies were still shown on film, you’d swear the final reel was missing.
If you see “It Comes at Night,” go in the afternoon, when tickets are cheaper. And bring a friend — or a whole group of them. Because you’ll definitely want to talk about what you did or didn’t see.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at email@example.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.
Movie: “It Comes at Night”
Running time: 97 minutes
Rating: R; violence, disturbing images, and language
Now playing: At multiple locations