We mourn a loss together, but we mourn alone. A horror film where despair and depression are as formidable threats as any boogeyman, The night house opens at the point where the mourning ends and the mourning begins, watching Beth (Rebecca Hall), an upstate New York schoolteacher, return from the funeral of her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). A worried friend walks her to the door, tells Beth to call him anytime, hands her a saucepan, then leaves without joining her inside. As the sun sets over the nearby lake, Beth stops, throws the pot in the trash, then waits for night to come.
It may not happen alone. Beth finds her nights troubled by more than just the loss of her husband. Strange noises wake her from sleep. What appear to be bloody footprints mark the platform leading to the back door. One night, shades of personal customer, she gets texts from Owen, but when she wakes up, the texts are gone. All of this is extremely disturbing. More disturbing: Beth begins to wake up far from her bed, with no memory of having moved from place to place.
Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (the team behind the memorable 2017 film super dark times) and directed by David Bruckner (member of the team responsible for The signal and V/H/S), The night house is both a haunted house story and a mystery. A striking first scene reveals the details of Owen’s death via a tense conversation between Beth and a student’s parent who tries to pressure Beth into giving her son a higher grade because, after all, Beth was absent at school. date she had planned a make- up project. Beth responds with unmasked hostility, telling the relative that she was unavailable then because it was the day her husband rowed in the middle of the lake and killed himself. And no, she doesn’t know why.
As the film progresses, Beth begins to piece together the story behind the suicide, but each new detail only deepens the mystery. Owen was an architect who designed their house, but why do the plans contain other plans for a similar house? Why didn’t their friendly widowed neighbor Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) tell Beth that he sometimes saw Owen walking in the woods at night, at least once with another woman? Why does their library contain books on the occult? And who is that woman in Owen’s phone photo, her head turned away from the camera? She could almost impersonate Beth, if Beth didn’t know better.
As the clues mount, Bruckner dole out scares with increasing intensity, a pattern for haunted house movies dating back to at least 1944. Undesirables. It’s skillfully executed enough to make The night house deserves a look on technical merit alone, turning every corner of a luxurious lake house into a site of profound terror. But what’s memorable is the film’s interest in exploring deeper ideas than just how frightening it can be to be unexpectedly alone and seemingly surrounded by malevolent specters. The title has a literal meaning in the film, best left untouched, but it also suggests the loneliness of Beth’s newly empty house and the shadows that threaten to envelop it, shadows that could be formidable threats even without the questions raised by Owen’s shocking death. .
Owen, Beth confesses to her friends, was the optimist of their marriage. It was she who was subject to the spiral of darkness. What is she supposed to do now? But while her friends care about her, they also become uncomfortable and impatient as she talks about her loss. They offer bromides, dismiss his concerns, and prevent him from investigating Owen’s death. This kind of loss makes it hard to know what to do, what advice to offer, and it all rings hollow in Beth’s ears anyway. Its nocturnal visitors, however, have no trouble making themselves heard.
Hall portrays Beth as a difficult woman who doesn’t always attract sympathy, even when needed. His grief takes the form of anger and suspicion. She behaves in a way that alienates others. Even her best friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) doesn’t know what to do except stay present and listen. The film weaves together a study of what it means to discover you’ve built your life above an abyss in the fabric of a multiplex-compatible horror movie, but it wouldn’t work without the skillful performance and Hall complex. She plays Beth as a woman shocked by her loss, but the real horror is how the secrets she unearths seem to encourage her most self-destructive tendencies. When everything that gives meaning to his life disappears, it starts to feel like confirmation that it might all be meaningless. Maybe it’s time to pour another cognac and let the darkness in.
A tension is building The night houseIt’s the home stretch as the demands of the genre begin to eat away at the ambiguity – at least to a point. The film fully reveals what Owen was up to before his death, but what accompanies this revelation, particularly its connection to Beth’s past, can be read in many different ways, and the film cleverly refuses to tell viewers what to think. While the final moments are sure to frustrate uncomfortable viewers with unanswered questions, the grayness suits the subject. Sometimes it’s not just the houses that are haunted, but also the people inside their walls. Some ghosts cannot be easily repelled or explained away. Some of them we have to live with.
The night house debuts in theaters on August 20.