Trey Edward Shults’ horror thriller is a lean piece of paranoia and tension. It opens with no preamble on a man dying of something horrible. Quickly, we ascertain that there is some contagious disease loose, and for safety, one family has barricaded itself in a house in the isolated woods. Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their teenage son (Travis Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live uneasily, taking precautions, including wearing protective gloves and face masks. Then late one night a stranger breaks in, and begs mercy: He was just looking for shelter for himself and his family. Grudgingly, Paul agrees, and Will (Christopher Abbott), his wife, Kim (Riley Keough) and their toddler move into the house. But the close quarters, the lack of electricity and plumbing, and the constant fear of contamination puts everyone on edge — and things go from awkward to very bad. The illness threat is never explained, and really, distrust is far more contagious, and ultimately, more deadly.
Shults’ work is a slow-burner, and doesn’t indulge in gratuitous gore or jump-out scares. The most nerve-rattling scenes involve the insomniac Travis wandering around the oddly shaped house at night, his camping lantern throwing crazy shadows. (Take a moment to marvel at the technology that lets directors shoot movies with the weirdest sorts of limited light.) As it’s a bit slim on story, Night doesn’t deliver as much of an emotional punch as it likely aims to do. The ending isn’t wholly satisfying, but the film takes a pleasantly unsettling journey to get there.