The old adage is that it isn’t what you see, but what you don’t that scares you. The Night House, starring Rebecca Hall (The Awakening, The BFG, Christine) takes a recently widowed woman slowly descending into depression and asks the question: what has she been blind to all this time?
In true horror fashion, Beth (Hall) is stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The house her husband built in the woods beside a lake has become less homely after his recent inexplicable suicide.
The mysterious wet footsteps, half-heard voices, and electrical interferences break through her increasingly drunken haze. Yet it is hard to tell if it is this, or the suggestion that her late husband obsessed over another woman, that is disturbing her more.
Directed by David Bruckner (executive producer on the excellent No One Gets Out Alive), The Night House is a brooding horror film carried admirably by a captivating central performance from Hall. For the vast majority of the film Bruckner focuses purely on his star and her spiralling mental state.
The Night House Trailer
Other characters come and go (concerned friend, concerned neighbour), but the spooks come from the unexplained goings on around her home and the unravelling puzzle of frantic notes left in its blueprints by her ex-husband.
Hall skulks around the house, drink in hand, rising in anger at what she finds out but also undermining her credibility in the eyes of those around her.
The Night House keeps itself coy for most of the movie. Bruckner strategically deploys cuts to keep you wrong-footed; any time that strange activity creeps up to a crescendo the scene will bluntly jump back to normality.
Director Satoshi Kon put this method to unnerving use in his movies (Perfect Blue an outstanding example), but after the third or fourth time of resetting his scene, Bruckner may find he has pushed the patience of his audience.
Is The Night House Worth Watching?
On the surface The Night House is an effective ghost story somewhat sewn onto a dark exploration of whether we can truly ever know another person.
Yet underneath there is commendably more going on; you can take the events as an allegory of depression or Beth’s fractured coping mechanism.
Conceptually the movie is successfully unnerving and Hall sells it well in every scene, especially so given the questionable nature of what she sees.
Bruckner swims confidently across the lake of his script but gets into difficulty in the last 20 minutes as the need for some sort of explanation tries unsuccessfully to crystalise.
This sadly has a two-handed consequence – the logic of whatever threat may exist is too muddy to serve as a reveal, but by its existence, undermines an attempt at an ambiguous conclusion.
In a film that is trying to convince you that the possibility in the left hand is just as valid as the possibility in the right, there needs to be equally compelling evidence in both.
The husband, despite being a central driver of events, remains underwritten. With the benefit of some carefully sewn seeds of doubt, the presence of his character could have loomed large. As it stands, he lives within the movie as a separate bubble, defined in isolation without any wider context.
When taken in retrospect on a metaphorical level, The Night House has interesting things to say and on a take-it-as-you-find-it level, it keeps you captivated throughout its run time.
Intentionally or not though, the movie also leaves you listless in the dying moments. Switch off the lights and take what is in front of you; it is best not to seek answers within the darkness.
Words by Mike Record
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