With his second feature, It Comes At Night, writer/director Trey Edward Shults offers a harrowing vision of life at the end of the world. While the details on what preceded the story are sparse, he delivers a nuanced look at how one family tries to come to terms with their new reality. In his first film, Krisha, Shults created a tense, uncertain atmosphere located almost entirely in a single home over the course of one Thanksgiving. With his follow-up, he raises the stakes for his characters significantly, while exploring the notion that there’s much worse things to come after the apocalypse. We got the chance to sit down with Shultz after a screening of his movie held (appropriately) in the woods east of Austin, Texas, to talk about his films and his “less-is-more” approach to storytelling.
This seemed like a really lived-in idea. Where did it come from originally?
It started with my dad’s death. I think I wrote it two months after I lost [him]. My dad battled with addiction for a long time, we cut off our relationship, I hadn’t seen him in 10 years. Then he got pancreatic cancer suddenly, and I was with him on his deathbed. It was the closest I’ve come to death, and ever since that day my life has changed and it was one of the most dramatic things I’ve gone through, and I think this movie was sort of me, in grief, processing that.
I had images for the movie for years. I didn’t know why, because I don’t even watch that many post-apocalyptic movies or anything, and I’m not a huge horror guy. I love certain horror movies, but for whatever [reasons] I had it, I didn’t know why. But there was some story [that] I didn’t know what it was. And I lost my dad, and I started writing the opening scene where Sarah’s (Carmen Ejogo) talking to her dad, and it was exactly what I said to mine. And so that was all real, but then this whole fictional narrative burst out. In, like, three days I wrote it. It spewed out of me.
And then I think that event, the death, it also went to regret because my dad was so full of regret for the way he lived his life. I was just trying to help him find some peace, and regret kind of led to this other idea of thinking about my own mortality, thinking about the world we’re living in, and cycles of violence and everything that we go through, and how there’s worse things than death.
Because all of this violence, all this stuff, stems from fear. My idea is fear of the unknown, and ultimately fear of death. But then, I think there’s worse things than that, and worse than that is losing your humanity in the process. So that went to me reading books on genocide, and then this fictional narrative came out of all that stuff.