Synopsis – A widow begins to uncover her recently deceased husband’s disturbing secrets.
My Take – For years grief has been a compelling subject for horror stories as depression is a hard to defend monster and the basic idea of a recently departed still looming over the living is a relatable feeling for anyone. Well-trodden components which have been excellently factored in terrifying films like The Babadook (2014) and Hereditary (2018).
While many similar films looking and sounding films with a minor changes and settings have been filling up the landscape, this latest from director David Bruckner (The Ritual, V/H/S), thankfully, delivers a very dark and fresh multilayered story that is both simultaneously an unnerving haunted house story and a drama about coping with loss.
Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, the film does well in maintaining a spooky atmosphere and keeping the audience constantly on the lookout for something creepy in every scene with a whopping dose of tension with the support of its psychological elements and effective visuals.
Yes, though the final moments are sure to frustrate viewers uncomfortable with unanswered questions, director Bruckner doesn’t let that take away the more human aspects of the film.
Anchored by an astonishingly deft complex performance from Rebecca Hall, instead of being the typical stylistic supernatural scare fest, it opts for being something with minimalist frights and more dread, while offering a clarity of its themes few other films of its kind have mustered.
The story follows Beth (Rebecca Hall), a school teacher, who is coping with the recent loss of her husband of 14 years, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), who recently committed suicide, leaving her alone in a spacious, sleek home he designed himself. While she tries to get on with life by continuing to work and socialize with her co-workers, but the moment she starts to go into Owen’s belongings she uncovers dark secrets like discovering some suspicious photos of women who look eerily similar to her, Beth begins to suspect that he was living a double life.
It also doesn’t help that freaky occurrences begin at night and has strange dreams that often end with her waking up on the floor. Though her best friend from work Claire (Sarah Goldberg) and her considerate neighbor Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) encourage her to let Owen’s death be, Beth continues to hunt for clues, as she’s driven by both a need to know the truth and an anger at this man she loved for so long.
As the clues mount, there’s some big questions here and director David Bruckner masterfully sets the tension and creepiness. The film utilizes a few jump scares, but not to the point of excess where they lose their effectiveness. Director David Bruckner, knows how to build tension and create an atmosphere of discomfort. The camera moves elegantly throughout the carefully designed house, conjuring terror in the shadows and the many reflective glass surfaces.
And thanks to some splendid production design, Beth’s lake house manages to be both amazing and disconcerting. The score and cinematography are both aces at ratcheting up the building tension, not to mention some well-timed and very disturbing visuals when you least expect them.
The film also does a solid job of building the intrigue and the mystery giving Beth more than enough reasons to become increasingly suspicious of Owen’s actions. Was he having an affair with the bookstore employee Madelyne (Stacy Martin)? What’s the deal with that bizarre sculpt Beth finds? And why is there an almost exact replica of their house out in the woods?
But most importantly, as Beth starts hearing a voice echoing through the distance and maybe even feeling a presence guiding her along the way, director Bruckner doesn’t let the paranormal activity take away the more human aspects of the film. Even when the horror rears its head, the drama of grief is always present.
And that makes the horror all the more potent, and terrifying. Here, it’s an obsessive deep dive into every angle of Beth’s internal and external life, and as the revelations come, that brings real satisfaction not just in terms of scares, but in terms of emotion.
Yes, the film fully reveals what Owen was up to prior to his death, but what accompanies that revelation, particularly its connection to Beth’s past, can be read a couple of different ways, and the film smartly refuses to tell viewers what to think. But, the film isn’t in a rush to scare you, and because it takes a slow and steady approach to its horror, it’s all the more believable because of how serious the tone, and the performances, are.
Without a doubt, Rebecca Hall gives the best performance of her career here. She sells the toll of exhaustion from consistently terrible sleep with jittery glances and moving as if encased in a shell about to pop at any moment. But it’s the moments where she’s completely alone, frightened, and powerless, where she truly shines as an actress.
In supporting turns, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Stacy Martin and Evan Jonigkeit add value to meaningful scenes. On the whole, ‘The Night House’ is a tremendously unnerving and intense psychological horror that is effective, well-acted and stylish.
Directed – David Bruckner
Rated – R
Run Time – 107 minutes