After surviving a night in the woods for an experiential screening (event recap, review) of Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore feature It Comes at Night, we sat down with him to discuss the very personal nature of the film, his approach to making such an atypical horror film, the very interesting backstory behind the house featured in the film, and much more.

It Comes at Night stars Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbot, Riley Keough, and impressive newcomer Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Travis. 

A24 has delivered yet another unique, not-to-be-missed entry in the horror genre, and you can catch it in theaters next Friday, June 9, 2017. Read on for our spoiler free chat.

So, full confession, I’ve now seen this film twice; first at Overlook Film Festival and then again last night in the woods.  I have to say, it’s really interesting, because I’ve picked up on different details this go ‘round, and it’s affected me differently. I feel like I still haven’t caught everything.

That’s exactly how the film was designed, for people that dig it and see it a few times. Just to hear that makes me so happy.

This film came together during a very dark time in your life. Between your dad’s passing and reading a lot of books on genocide, did you have nightmares like Travis in the film?

I have, but not literally those same nightmares. Last week I just had a nightmare that I had cancer, and I fully believed that I was going to die. But it was weird, it was like cancer in my finger. It made no sense, it was just like, “Can you just cut off my hand?” They were like, “No, I’m sorry.” It was bizarre, but I had believed it. Also, I lost my dad to cancer, so it’s probably my most scary way to die. In my dream I really believed it, and I woke up like, “Wait, am I going to die?” No. Ok! Thank God! That’s just an idea of where my head goes. So I haven’t had nightmares [like Travis], but I have them in my own way.

You can’t go through traumatic events like this and not have it bleed over into your subconscious in some way.  Travis is not just your proxy, based on your life experiences, but also the audience proxy. He’s essentially the linchpin of the entire film; what was the most important part of the casting process for Travis?

Oh that’s a good question. Because Travis is our gateway, and I think he is kind of this innocent, but he has a darker side to him. He’s processing some huge, heavy dark stuff. So, when I was seeing kids, actually I hadn’t met Kelvin yet, I was just watching tapes that my casting director sent, and then it came down to two; Kelvin and this other kid. The other kid was great too, but he was just pure innocence. He was just a sweetheart and pure innocence. But then I saw the way Kelvin was playing it, you just saw a pain in his face underneath the innocence if that makes sense. And I just knew that that was Travis. You could feel that it’s not just innocence, there’s a whole other layer of all this heavy shit that he’s dealing with. You see it in his eyes and you can feel it in his face, there’s a weight to it; there’s something else that he’s fighting. If that makes sense.

Totally! You can’t go through what he did and no have it affect you. Now, that house. I know it took you forever to find that house, but what were you looking for specifically, other than a very creepy environment?

Definitely. When I wrote it, it was my grandparents’ house. It was Pee Wee Acres, that I sort of grew up in. It was interesting, my grandfather’s name was Bud, and he was a prisoner of war in World War II and he escaped. He made it through the war and he lived his life, and my grandma always said that he was obviously a different person from before the war and after. He wasn’t a super emotional guy, he didn’t talk a lot, but in his Pee Wee Acres home, beyond the family photos there was war paraphernalia. There was World War II stuff; he had a Nazi luger, he had weapons, he had paintings. He didn’t have Triumph of Death but he had Hunters in the Snow. As a kid, you see all this stuff, and it just ingrained in my subconscious. Now, looking back on it, I think it was his way of expressing what was going on, literally in the halls of his house. When I was writing, I just saw that house, my grandparents’ house in Pee Wee Acres. Beyond that, I just loved the idea of sort of a timeless space, in the wood, and that painting with the family photos. But also Travis’ shrine to his grandpa in his room, I don’t know. There’s just something timeless about it. The creepiness is inherent, but also I just wanted space to explore Travis’ subconscious within the house. It was really important, but yeah, I think it stemmed from my grandparents’ place and how it leaked into this story. 

This house in the movie is really big, yet claustrophobic at the same time.

(laughing) What’s really funny is that while writing the script I drew a diagram of my grandparents’ house. Of course we couldn’t find a house like that. It was really unique; it was a house in Texas and we couldn’t find one like it in Canada or upstate New York, and we had to shoot there for tax purposes. Just the layout of it; there was a hallway and the hallway lead to the garage. I sort of reconstructed it in my own way with this house. My grandparents’ house wasn’t as wooden.

Your approach to the horror is very atypical. Can you speak more on how you took on the horror element in a very non-standard way?

I know for me personally, I don’t think I’m even like a horror connoisseur; I just love certain movies. I love The Shining, The Thing, Night of the Living Dead, Don’t Look Now, and The Fly, just amazing singular horror films. I think I love those movies, and combining that with just me and personal stuff like my dad’s death. It was less like, “I’m a genius, I’m going to do this!” and more like “I love this, I’m going to try this,” and what I was going through. I wrote the script two months after my father’s death, so I think it was a way of dealing with grief. It just naturally went into horror. Beyond all of that, my fears are in the movie. My ultimate fear is death and fear of the unknown. Even the sores on the skin in the movie; when I was working for my stepdad I got poison ivy, and it spread like crazy and I had boils all over my arms. It was disgusting. Even that goes into the film. Maybe that’s why it’s atypical.