Written by: Matt Patti | August 19th, 2021
The Night House (David Bruckner, 2020) 3½ out of 4 stars.
There are a great many horror/thriller films out there that center around the mystery of a departed one’s secret life. Recently, I’ve seen many films that follow this same formula. A spouse or close family member dies, leaving their property to those outlined in their will. Soon, the beneficiaries find that they’re in store for more than they bargained for, as they discover secrets and surprises about their loved one that they never knew. Though it’s been done many times before, I find myself coming back to these films, especially the ones with a darker tone, in the hopes of experiencing a truly compelling, spine-chilling mystery. Some recent films to follow this path have disappointed me, unfortunately, so I didn’t have high expectations of director David Bruckner’s The Night House going in. However, through Bruckner’s masterful direction and star Rebecca Hall’s emotionally gripping performance, the film rises above others like it.
The Night House stars Hall (Godzilla vs. Kong) as Beth, a school teacher who lives in a large, remote house by a lake. Her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit, Kate Can’t Swim), has committed suicide by shooting himself in the head while out alone on a boat in said lake. A week later, Beth struggles to focus on her job as an educator and is understandably distraught at the loss of her husband. Now living alone in the desolate house as a widow, she begins to go through Owen’s belongings and soon finds a few shocking materials that raise many questions. To make matters worse, Beth begins to experience strange dreams, sleepwalking, and the feeling of being watched. Her friends excuse the occurrences as the normal grief process, but Beth is convinced that there is someone—or something—in her house, stalking her.
After the opening minutes of the film alone, Rebecca Hall’s performance grabs you and does not let you go. We sympathize with her character Beth right away, not only because of the tragedy that struck her, but also because her character attempts to live her life and continue on while holding back the pain, not wanting anyone to feel sorry for her but sometimes just losing control and giving in to despair. Hall’s moving, grounded, relatable turn helps establish her character Beth as a very compelling and fascinating central presence in the film. The supporting cast all play their roles well, too, though there aren’t any standouts and other characters aren’t really noteworthy or vital to the film. But the majority of the runtime is spent with Beth and Beth alone, which works to the film’s benefit.
While the film’s plot starts off like many films of this type, the deeper we dive, the more intriguing the plot gets and starts to differentiate itself from similar storylines. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the film that keep the viewer guessing, and we’re never quite sure what to believe. Even when we think we know exactly what’s happening, the film throws another curveball that blows our mind. Director Bruckner (The Ritual) expertly creates a dreadful atmosphere of loneliness and sorrow in an extravagant house in the middle of the woods that pairs well with sudden frightening events that take place. The film is full of long, drawn-out suspense sequences that leave the viewer on the edge of their seat and often lead to a well-earned, effective scare.
With beautiful cinematography, including very creative, unique individual shots, a haunting score, and cohesive, intentional editing, the technical aspects of The Night House help enhance its exceptional plot. The film leads to a tense, shocking ending that is fulfilling, although a few logistical questions are left unanswered. The filmmakers gathered all the right materials to build an effective horror film, complete with a compelling mystery, and they execute their plan with precision. Enthralling, tension-filled, and with a three-dimensional protagonist who is easy to root for, The Night House stands a cut above the rest of its counterparts in this subgenre.