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The Devil Comes at Night (2023) Review

The Devil Comes at Night got some attention when it made its debut at last year’s Blood in the Snow Festival. As luck would have it that was the first time in years I didn’t cover it so I’ve had to wait until now to catch up with it. I wasn’t disappointed as the film hits the ground running right from the start. We see Jack (Elias Zarou, Stone Cold Dead, Left Behind III: World at War) hustling a heavily inebriated Ben (Ryan Allen, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Spare Parts) into a secluded house in the woods of Ontario.

Ben, a boxer whose career was derailed by his fondness for strong drink, came to town intending to find something in his recently deceased father’s safe. Instead, as Jack put it “won a bar fight against the wrong white guy”, leaving his former trainer to get him out before the cops show up. Waking up alone and in pitch darkness, Ben finds a note telling him to stay quiet and keep the lights off, unfortunately, that’s after he turned them on. That’s quickly followed by a visit from a pair of seemingly friendly neighbours with a lot of questions to ask.

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Director Scott Leaver (Fare Trade, Paranormal Investigators), who also makes an appearance as a cultist, wrote The Devil Comes at Night’s script along with the film’s stars Allen and Kress. They show a good feel for the material, slowly escalating the situation with a series of bizarre encounters. There’s clearly something going on, but we can’t tell what.

Even after he’s found Amy (Adrienne Kress, Wolves, Devil’s Mile) hiding in the house and telling tales of strange goings-on since his father’s death, we don’t get any answers. And after Mason (Jason Martorino, Kingdom Come, Cradle to Grave) and his followers attack we’re left with yet more questions, most prominently why can’t they enter the house? Whatever the reason is, the answers probably lie in the safe.

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A one location film obviously shot on a tight budget, The Devil Comes at Night lacked the resources to fill the screen with constant action and gore effects. Instead, it uses mystery and uncertainty over the situation to keep the viewer’s attention. And the script does offer several options, each with some degree of plausibility.

Is it, as Ben thinks, racism? A siege horror film whose lead is a black man named Ben certainly calls back to Night of the Living Dead, one of the first genre films to confront racial issues. Is it related to his father’s interest in the supernatural? That might explain why they can’t come into the house. Or is it simply the money Ben believes is in the safe attracting some of the stranger local lowlives?

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The final act features not only most of the film’s action, but a couple of twists I didn’t see coming. That includes a reveal in the last few minutes that I have to give the filmmakers credit for thinking of as well as for managing to pull off and end the film on an “Oh shit” moment.

Cinematographer Nelson Rogers (High-Rise Rescue, The Twelve Trees of Christmas) does a good job of building atmosphere while keeping things visible despite much of the film being shot in darkness. The deliberate decision, budgetary I’m sure, to stage some of the scenes in total darkness was unfortunate though. Credit the sound crew with giving the viewer enough clues to visualize what they don’t see. There’s also a scene involving an audio tape that their effects make quite chilling.

An effective film that uses creativity to help overcome a lack of cash, The Devil Comes at Night will be released on DVD and Digital Platforms on June 6th by Uncork’d Entertainment. If you want more films like this, FilmTagger can offer a few suggestions.

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