Riley Keough and Christopher Abbott share secrets from the set of 'It Comes at Night'

ByKristen Yoonsoo Kim

It comes at night — but what is it, exactly?

There's an eerie and purposeful ambiguity in the sophomore feature from Krisha director Trey Edward Shults, the unsettlingly named It Comes at Night. Though the apocalyptic thriller — that once again paired him with tastemaking indie distributor A24 — is a departure from his 2015 autobiographical debut, the two are similar in the tense family dynamic that brews at the core. In the new picture, two families end up sharing living quarters during an unexplained viral breakout; because of the conditions, people are required to wear gas masks outside and, most importantly, never go out at night.

This confines its characters inside a house with little knowledge as to what's happening, but Shults shoots with the kind of creepy atmosphere that lets your imagination run wild in the darkness. Riley Keough and Christopher Abbott — two of the most talented up-and-comers to watch on the big or small screen — play the young married couple, who, with their toddler son, find shelter at the residence of another family (Joel Edgerton plays the father, Carmen Ejogo the mother and Kelvin Harrison Jr. their teen son). The threat of the unknown looms outside the walls of their desolate home, but it's the distrust between two households that makes this film pound with paranoia.

Mic sat down with Keough and Abbott at New York's Crosby Hotel to talk about their characters finding love in a hopeless place, injuries they sustained on set and the dread that courses through It Comes at Night. We also got an animal scoop that "people will freak out over," according to Abbott. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

(Editor's note: Spoilers for It Comes at Night ahead.)

Mic: You guys have such interesting chemistry onscreen. You were very affectionate with one another in a setting where you'd think it'd be impossible to be that way.

Riley Keough: Yeah, Carmen Ejogo and Joel Edgerton's relationship was supposed to be more distant. Ours was supposed to be younger.

Did you do anything before shooting to establish that relationship?

RK: I think we texted once, didn't we?

Christopher Abbott: Yeah, when I got to Woodstock [where we filmed], I texted, "Are you here?" And then you weren't there.

RK: Oh, yeah, that was it.

CA: That was all the prep.

I guess that's the key to a happy marriage in apocalyptic times.

RK: No communication.

Had you guys seen Krisha before, and were you fans of Trey Edward Shults?

RK: Yeah, I had seen Krisha and loved it.

He's quite the promising new director.

CA: He is, and when you meet him, he's so unassuming, which is what I love. And he's kind of a genius at the same time.

Eric McNatt/A24

At first, this movie seems like such a departure from Krisha, which is based on Shults' own family and takes place over an uncomfortable Thanksgiving gathering. And yet there are so many similarities, especially with the tense family dynamic.

CA: Yeah, I think the similarities there are the right ones because there's a certain style. I think that's a good trademark [for Shults].

There are a lot of great indie horrors in the recent years. I think the one that people will compare this to a lot is The Witch because they're both from A24, it's in the woods, there are goats …

RK: The same goat, by the way.

What? That's Black Philip?

CA: Yeah, it was literally the same goat.

No way! Actually?

RK: Yeah.

CA: He or she wasn't as featured in our movie, but [it was the] same goat actor.

That's insane. This goat is such a good actor.

CA: It must just be A24's goat.

RK: They own it.

CA: It's in the mailing room, too. That's a fun little fact. People are gonna freak out over that.

What do you think sets It Comes at Night apart from other great indie horror films that are coming up right now?

CA: Well, I think that thematically it's quite subversive. I wouldn't even describe it so much as a horror film. There are psychological-thriller elements, straight-drama elements.

RK: When I read it, I felt like it was more of a drama. But then you add on all the things — the camera, the score, and all that ... And I love ambiguity in general.

CA: The characters in the movie are somewhat ill-equipped to what's happening, anyway. They're all survivalists, but they didn't train to be survivalists, so they're dealing with it as it kind of goes along.

The scene that really sticks with me is the one with your screaming, Riley. It's just such a haunting scream, and I believe Trey said it made him cry. How do you tap into that sort of agony?

RK: I think that it's a mixture between adrenaline and just the whole sequence. You're running up a hill, and someone's chasing you, and then you fall, and it kind of all gets you there, I think.

I feel like I don't have that scream in me.

RK: You probably do. I don't do that often. It's not a thing I practice.

Eric McNatt/A24

Christopher, it seems like there were a lot of taxing scenes for you, with you being shirtless with a bag over your head and tumbling with Joel Edgerton.

CA: Yeah, a lot of physical shit. Some of that stuff isn't the most enjoyable, but it was fun. I pinched a nerve in my neck at one point.

RK: Oh yeah, I remember that. I was trying to help you.

CA: That was funny. And then we had to shoot one of the later fight scenes that day, too. So you don't notice it as much, but my neck was a little twisted.

RK: And you had to fall on the wheelbarrow. Did you hurt your back then?

CA: That was just my neck. My neck, my back …

Your, um, other things and your crack — that’ll be the headline of this piece. Riley, did you have any accidents?

RK: Peeing my pants?

Yeah, did you pee your pants?

RK: Yeah, I wet the bed. It happens.

There's a scene where you spit black matter on Travis [played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.] when he’s in bed. Could you talk about shooting that?

RK: Oh yeah, it was really gross. It's the same stuff they use for blood, so it’s this gooey corn syrup. They just dyed it black.

So you just had to hold it in your mouth and let it go?

RK: It was really frustrating because [Shults] wanted it artistically, visually, to be an exact speed. So we did it a lot.

Riley, you obviously come from a very legendary musical background, being Elvis Presley’s granddaughter and Michael Jackson’s stepdaughter. Do either of you play music?

RK: Oh, no.

CA: I play some instruments — guitar and drums. But I'm not, like, in a band.

If you guys were to make mixtapes for each other, what would be on them?

RK: I don't know what kind of music he listens to — except I did hear, like, one song in your car. I don't remember what it was. Probably something really emotional. Like, [a] super-into-his-feelings kind of thing.

CA: Do I give off a really emotional beam? I would probably just put that song "My Neck, My Back" on it 17 times. Or I'd give you the score for this film.

It Comes at Night is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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