Movie Review: ‘The Night House’

Review by James Lindorf

Beth (Rebecca Hall) seems to have it all. She loves being a teacher, and her best friends are her coworkers. She lives in a beautiful lakeside home partially built by her adoring husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). But Owen’s unexpected suicide has left her reeling and trying to make sense of his actions and the world without him. Against the advice of her friends, she begins digging into her husband’s belongings, yearning for answers. Beth is doing her best to keep it together, even returning to enter her grades before summer starts, but that’s before the visions begin. Owen’s ghost or some presence in the house calls to her, beckoning her to the lake. The answer to what will unravel first, Beth’s sanity or the mystery of “The Night House” will be answered only in theaters on August 20th.

In the least shocking news of 2021, Rebecca Hall gives an outstanding performance throughout “The Night House.” We meet Beth as she is returning from Owen’s funeral, and she is a mixture of sad, angry, and confused, just like you would expect her to be. When she pulls it together enough to go out into the world, she has a fantastically dark sense of humor I adore, but some of her friends find it off-putting. She also isn’t afraid to let her raw nerves take a pound of flesh from anyone she decides is in her way. There is a brief flashback, but it would have been nice to see more of Beth pre-incident to add more range to the already stellar performance. The rest of the cast, including Vondie Curtis Hall as Mel the concerned neighbor and Sarah Goldberg as best friend Claire, are terrific in their supporting roles. Jonigkeit’s performance as Owen is mainly composed of whispers and far-off stares and neither subtracts or adds anything to the story.

The house in “The Night House” is beautiful, isolated, and impossibly large. Unfortunately, you never get a sense of the layout. It robs the movie of an additional “character” that a great location can provide. Unlike most horror movies, this haunting is universal throughout the home and not originating from one area. This may weaken the tension at times but makes you more susceptible to being shocked as the horror could be around any corner. Credit has to go to the set designers and the FX team with the way they built faces and body shapes into the home’s architecture. It made for some good tension, and a couple of jump scares.

Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski had many good ideas when they sat down to pen the script for “The Night House.” They combined the gaslighting of last year’s fantastic “The Invisible Man” reboot and the secret occult rituals of “Rosemary’s Baby” with modern haunted house special effects not seen since 1999’s “The Haunting.” They even delve deep into the philosophical debate of what awaits us on the other side of death. These are all fantastic starting points for a movie, and they weave them together like one of the mazes that fascinated Owen. The problem is that with so many twists and turns, they got lost in their own maze. In a confusing and unsatisfying move, instead of reaching the center naturally with a triumphant moment of victory for Beth, they just knocked down all the walls in the final 10 minutes. Fewer dead ends may have made the maze too easy for viewers to figure out, but no one likes cheating to reach the end. With the movie stretching the limits at 110 minutes, maybe more was filmed and removed in post-production to make for a more studio and audience palatable runtime.

Director David Bruckner is a relatively inexperienced director. Still, he is developing some major horror cred between this, working on the “Creepshow” series, and now directing the reboot of “Hellraiser.” He managed to create one of the most compelling scenes I have seen in a horror movie in at least five years. Getting one jump out of the audience is one thing but building on the moment again and again in quick succession is not something most directors could pull off. If nothing else sticks with me from “The Night House,” I will remember that scene.

Beautiful locations, an excellent performance, and good direction are enough to outweigh the shortcomings of a rushed and barely coherent climax. Hall and Bruckner still earn “The Night House” a 3.5 out of 5 but removing an idea or two to give life to the others could have made this a contender for the best horror movie of the decade.

Rating: R (Some Violence/Disturbing Image|Some Sexual References|Language)
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Thriller
Original Language: English
Director: David Bruckner
Producer: David S. Goyer, Keith Levine, John Zois
Writer: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski
Release Date: August 20th, 2021
Runtime: 1h 50m
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures

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