CAST: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Stacy Martin, Evan Jonigkeit, Vondie Curtis-Hall
RUNNING TIME: 108 mins
BASICALLY…: A widow (Hall) begins to uncover her recently deceased husband’s disturbing secrets…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Rebecca Hall is one of those actresses who always commands your presence every time she’s on-screen, mostly because you’re frightened of what she’ll do when you look away from her. Over the years, she has really nailed the look of absolute psychological torment, whether we’re talking about her previous horror roles in films like The Awakening or The Gift, her memorable titular performance in Christine as a suicidal reporter, or other movies like Transcendence and Holmes & Watson which are tormenting in completely different ways.
It’s a look she’s perfected so much that The Night House, her latest starring role, feels almost tailor-made for the actress to flex her ability to seem as completely terrified at every turn, and it works wonders in an already effective psychological horror that benefits greatly from her expressive nature.
Hall plays Beth, a woman who we meet just after her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) has committed suicide, leaving her alone in the lake house that he built for the two of them. Naturally, Beth is still emotionally raw from her devastating loss, spending her evenings drinking heavily and reminiscing about her seemingly perfect marriage, but very soon some eerie night disturbances cause Beth to believe that there is an otherworldly presence in the house, quite possibly Owen’s ghost. However, as she continues to discover more and more disturbing secrets about her husband, including mysterious plans for a reverse version of their house, and creepy photos of other women who look strikingly similar to her, Beth’s mental state becomes so fragile that it becomes difficult to separate dreams from reality.
The second feature from director David Bruckner, whose first was the 2017 horror The Ritual, is both a legitimately unnerving ghost story, and a respectful character study. Bruckner stays as far away as he can from familiar jump-scare tropes to deliver a spooky atmosphere and even more haunting imagery; we spend a lot of time in this lake house, where the main character is subject to visions of backwards houses that may or may not be there, women running about outside before jumping over the cliff edge, and bloodied footprints made by an apparently invisible force. The director films these scenes with a sense of pure dread, leaving the viewer practically frozen in place as more and more disturbing stuff begins happening, but always keeping the focus on the main character and her paralleled outpouring of grief which only fuels the uncertainty of her visions. I remember Bruckner’s previous film following a similar level of intensity, only to come undone slightly during the third act; The Night House stays consistently unnerving throughout, right up to the final shot which once again relies heavily on imagery and mood over any cheap jump-scare stingers.
The movie works as well as it does not just because it’s made by people who actually do care about crafting a decent horror movie atmosphere, as well as bringing in several chilling and well-executed sequences (a “love” scene late in the movie is particularly creepy), but because it contains a lead performance that is worth the ticket price alone. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to know that Rebecca Hall is outstanding in this movie, excelling in scenes where – again – her perfected look of pure fright and anguish is on full display during most of the movie, and since she is practically in every single scene she has to use that expression a lot, but each time it’s completely warranted, especially given what horrifying things she ends up encountering. She’s also great in scenes where that look doesn’t even make an appearance, including a very well-acted scene in a bar where she’s essentially oversharing some very sensitive information to a bunch of horrified work colleagues, while other scenes of complete drunkenness come with a level of empathy and tragedy as, in a very weird way, you do know exactly where she’s coming from in terms of coping with her overbearing grief and feelings of guilt. Much of the movie is essentially a one-woman show with her left alone in this house to deal with all the supernatural occurrences (there’s barely any dialogue for the first ten or so minutes, when she’s just simply wandering this house alone and drinking herself into oblivion), but because her performance is so good here you have no problem spending most of a movie with this very damaged person.
I would say that if perhaps ten minutes of the movie were trimmed down, this would have easily been an A-grade horror, because while the movie is consistently chilling to watch with some very disturbing visuals and ideas being played out – not to mention a stellar central performance from its leading lady – there were a couple of times in the movie where I was checking my watch to see how much longer there was to go, and that was usually in some of the extended scenes of exposition which could have been reduced to a couple of crucial lines. I’d still recommend The Night House regardless, but that one little detail puts a sock in this otherwise spooky movie.
SO, TO SUM UP…
The Night House is an effective supernatural horror that’s well-made by people who care strongly about providing a spooky atmosphere, and boosted by an excellent lead performance by Rebecca Hall, though it perhaps runs a little longer than it should have.