Director: David Bruckner
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Samantha Buck, Stacy Martin, Vondie Curtis Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jonigkeit
Runtime: 1 hr 47 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Coarse Language & Horror)
Released By: Walt Disney Studio
Opening Day: 19 August 2021
Synopsis: Reeling from the unexpected death of her husband, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her. She tries as best she can to keep it together – but then nightmares come. Disturbing visions of a presence in the house calling to her, beckoning her with a ghostly allure. Against the advice of her friends, she begins digging into her husband’s belongings, yearning for answers. What she finds are secrets both strange and disturbing – a mystery she’s determined to unravel.
Contrary to what you may expect, the star of ‘The Night House’ isn’t the titular lakeside house, however gorgeous it may be; instead, that honour belongs to British actress Rebecca Hall, who as the lead of this psychological horror, fully owns each and every one of the scenes she is in. Indeed, you may recognise Hall from other previous genre titles such as ‘The Gift’ and ‘The Awakening’, but Hall demonstrates such unwavering commitment to her role as a grief-stricken widow here that her performance truly elevates the material into something else.
Certainly, there is plenty of promise in the premise of ‘The Night House’, which sets up a spooky series of events surrounding Hall’s high-school teacher Beth dealing with the shocking suicide of her husband Owen (Evan Jonigheit). Not only does she hear footsteps in the house late at night, she starts to see flashes of Owen in her dreams and hear his voice around her. Are those just her delusions as a result of her mental state, or do they reveal something more sinister about the house and what Owen may have been up to prior to his death?
The latter is especially teased with Beth’s discovery of the occult within Owen’s belongings, including a bound edition of their home’s mazelike blueprints filled with jottings such as “trick it, don’t listen to it” and underlined sections of a book dealing with Celtic mythology with references to “reverse spaces intended to confuse or weaken dark forces”. There’s also Owen’s cryptic suicide note to Beth, in which he tells her that “nothing is after you”.
But perhaps most creepily is how Owen seems to have been stalking other women which look like Beth. Whilst the easy conclusion would be that Owen was leading a double life behind Beth, the truth ends up being a lot more complicated and eerie – and without giving too much away, let’s just say that it has to do with the petrifying sights and sounds that haunt her nights as well as the inchoate shadows that she senses are hovering around her.
Like we said at the start, Hall holds the entire movie together from start to finish. Not only does she have you invested in her plight as a grieving widow discovering some untoward secrets her husband has been keeping from her, Hall wins you over as she daringly confronts what has been taunting her in the night, determined to either find a way to reconnect with her late husband or discover the entity that he has apparently been keeping at bay. Hall gets some able assist from time to time by Vondie Curtis Hall (playing a concerned neighbour) and Sarah Goldberg (playing a close friend), but there is no mistaking that the show belongs to Hall.
And that is a relief, especially since the plotting does get muddled towards the end. As good as director David Bruckner is in building atmosphere and choreographing a number of loud choice jump-scares to unnerve his target demographic, the deliberately ambiguous ending does the entire film no favours. Is it all in Beth’s head? Or is there something more truly after her? The puzzle ultimately proves to be less than the sum of its intricately oddball parts, and if you don’t end up begrudging the movie for falling apart eventually, it is only because Hall is so compellingly watchable.
Truth be told, there will be some who would appreciate the artful finish that the film tries to strive towards, while there will be others who are deeply underwhelmed by its resolution. Yet like we’ve said, ‘The Night House’ largely succeeds at keeping you intrigued for a good deal of its duration, with Hall being instrumental in that; even if it ends up being somewhat of a letdown, we’d dare say it remains suitably unnerving as a genre piece, and certainly a harrowing and rewarding journey thanks to Hall’s powerful and affecting performance.
(Treading a fine line between psychological and supernatural horror, 'The Night House' manages to be creepy and unnerving throughout, driven by a powerful and affecting lead performance from Rebecca Hall)
Review by Gabriel Chong