By Clark Collis
April 24, 2017 at 04:00 PM EDT
Stanley and Bud
Credit: Eric McNatt/A24

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In the new horror-thriller It Comes at Night, a father (Joel Edgerton), mother (Selma’s Carmen Ejogo), and their teenage son (The Birth of a Nation’s Kelvin Harrison Jr.) are attempting to survive a civilization-destroying pandemic in a remote house in the woods. So when an intruder (Christopher Abbott) arrives, pleading for help, they are forced to choose between kindness and potential infection. And this is one killer sickness.

In an early scene, the family is faced with the deteriorating condition of Ejogo’s character’s father, who has fallen victim to the virus. To depict the grotesque physical effect of the contagion, writer-director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha) suggested that makeup department head Sasha Grossman and special-effects makeup artist Jessie Eden use real-life illnesses as references. “We looked at whatever photos we could find that related to the bubonic plague, related to Ebola virus,” Eden says. “We took a little bit of every gnarly disease.” The pair created a look that featured boils and blackened veins. And for the coup de grâce? “To be even scarier, we added solid black demonlike eyes,” Grossman says.

The film’s inspiration, though, comes from an emotional place: the cancer-related death of Shults’ father, who had addiction issues and had reunited with his son only shortly before passing away. “It was a hugely traumatic, life-changing moment in my life,” Shults says. “I started writing the opening scene and then this whole fictional story burst out of that.”

Edgerton considers It Comes at Night one of a new breed of horror films that engages brains as well as raises hairs. “Let’s be honest, horror movies have a bad rap,” says the Australian actor, whose own directorial debut, 2015’s The Gift, won high marks as an unsettling thriller. “It’s up to movies like Get Out and It Follows — and this movie, I hope — to [remove] the stigma of what I refer to as the ‘blood porn’ nature of horror. Horror films can be incredibly intelligent.” In other words, don’t expect his movie to give the genre a black eye.

You can see another exclusive image from It Comes at Night below.

Stanley and Bud
Credit: Eric McNatt/A24

It Comes at Night is released June 9.