The Night House puts big cosmic horror into a small haunted-house story
We grieve together when we lose someone we love, but not when we are alone. The Night Houseis a horror film in which despair and depression are as real as any boogeyman. It opens at the moment when mourning ends and grief begins. We watch Beth (Rebecca Hall), a teacher in upstate New York as she returns from Owen’s funeral. An concerned friend leads Beth to the door and tells her to call her whenever she wants. After giving Beth a casserole, she leaves the room without inviting her in. Beth watches the sunset over the lake and then stops to take out the casserole. Then she waits for the night.
It might not be coming alone. Beth is finding her nights disturbed by the loss of her husband. Strange sounds wake Beth from her sleep. The dock leading to the back door is marked by what appears to be bloody footprints. She receives text messages from Owen one night, and when she wakes up, they have disappeared. This is all very troubling. Even more troubling is Beth’s inability to remember where she was last.
Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, the team behind 2017’s memorable film Super Dark Times, wrote The Night House. David Bruckner directed the movie. The Night House is both a haunted house story and a mystery. A striking scene from the beginning reveals Owen’s death through a heated conversation between Beth, a student’s father, and her daughter. She’s trying to push Beth towards a better grade for her son, as Beth was not available on the date she had scheduled for a make-up project. Beth responds with unmasked hostility to the parent, stating that she wasn’t available because her husband had rowed out to a lake and shot herself. She doesn’t know the reason.
Beth begins to piece together the story of the suicide as the film progresses. Each new detail only adds to the mystery. Owen was an architect and designed their house. But why does the blueprints include other plans for a similar home? Their friendly widowed neighbor Mel (Vondie Cutis-Hall), did not tell Beth that he saw Owen walking in the woods at night at least once with another woman. Why is their library filled with books about the occult Who is that woman in Owen’s photo, her head turned towards the camera? If Beth didn’t know better, she could almost pass as Beth.
Bruckner gives out terrifying scares as the clues pile up, an example of haunted-house movies that dates back at least to The Invited in 1944. The execution is so good that The Night House is worth a look just for its technical merit. It transforms every corner of a luxury lake house into a place of deep fear. The film’s curiosity in exploring deeper ideas than the scary possibility of being alone and surrounded by evil spirits is what makes it memorable. Although the title is literal, it should not be spoilt. It also suggests Beth’s loneliness and the shadows that threaten her home, shadows that could pose formidable threats, even without Owen’s shocking death.
Beth reveals to her friends that Owen was the optimist in their marriage. She was the one who spiraled into darkness. What should she do? While her friends love her and care deeply about her, they become impatient with her as she recounts her grief. They give her bromides and dismiss her concerns. They also steer her away form probing into Owen’s death. This type of loss is difficult to understand and Beth doesn’t want to hear it. However, her nighttime visitors are able to make themselves heard.