Although The Night House’s supernatural aspects might not develop great enticement, Rebecca Hall’s strong lead performance as well as the atmosphere make it into an effective ghost story about loss and transience.
After the unexpected death of her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), Beth (Rebecca Hall) is all alone in the lakeside home that he built just for her. She tries to keep herself together but spends most of her nights drunk. One night, she gets a sense that she is not alone. Beth has been skeptical of what will happen after death for too long but the radio turning on by itself, the loud knockings, and disturbing visions cause her to start digging into his life to try and find answers but what she finds is that she didn’t know him at all.
Like a lot of the horror films that have been released this year, The Night House tries to do a lot of things at the same time. A mystery-thriller of a missing husband, a portrait of existential angst, a view on coping with grief, a dive into mental illness, and a pure popcorn horror film. Unlike others, this finds a way to work properly. Of course, it doesn’t run its full course without misses, but you can resonate with the story while still feeling the fear and foreboding of our leading woman.
There is well-developed dread in the front and back of the film by decisions that may be questionable but find their way to fit the atmosphere. The camera loiters longer than it needs to be, causing a sense of anxiety and restiveness, and there are classic horror shots like closing doors in your face and a person crawling underneath the bed that gives us a bit of that 90s horror tropes. There are a lot of cheesy and poor jump scares, somewhat like The Conjuring franchise, in the way that everything goes quiet for a while and the scare is a loud noise. Ben Lovett’s score doesn’t help either as it is blown out of proportion.
However, on a positive note, the sound design, apart from the unnecessary “bangs”, and “fata-morgana” illusions are quite nice. Bruckner uses optical and hearing trickery like shadows, quick editing, crunches, and lighting techniques to elevate those previously mentioned scares. The most memorable scenes that the movie has come from that quippy sleight of hand which causes the audience to get more involved in the ghost story, dwell in the dread-filled ambiance, and get into the psyche of Beth’s ever-developing paranoia.
The cast is one that I like quite a lot because it has a trio of good actresses whom I adore watching on screen. We have Sarah Goldberg from Barry, Stacy Martin from Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, and the one who steals the cake, Rebecca Hall. Hall’s strong performance is the piece that hoists the movie. She makes Beth look cold, cruel, and confident, while vulnerable and emotional — a wreck as this mystery starts evolving into something greater that she didn’t expect and sways in and out of verity.
David Bruckner manages to pull off what could have easily gone wrong. This had many routes to take, a lot of them being poor and generic, but it sticks its landing. A multi-layered performance by Rebecca Hall and some guiling deception helps The Night House to be an effective ghost story with heady chills.