Tense and nerve-racking, The Night House is the sort of film that can get one's heart racing because we are invested in the protagonist’s struggle. Many horror films have taken place in spacious homes beside the lake, but I haven’t seen one use its setting so well for quite some time. What’s the secret? Well we can discuss that below.
From the onset, the viewer feels almost intrusive as Beth (Rebecca Hall) arrives home dressed in black. Her husband, the man who built their wonderful home, committed suicide out on the lake and she begins the process of grieving. Of course the obvious happens. As sure as water is wet, there are knocks on the door, strange dreams, and the feeling that something isn’t quite right. The house is so isolated that even after we meet Beth’s neighbor Mel (Vondie-Curtis Hall), we can’t tell if he’d hear her screaming or not.
Mel is one of two characters that try to help as Beth closes out the school year as a teacher. The other friend is co-worker Claire (Sarah Goldberg) who keeps racking up awkward points as she says one unintentionally insensitive thing after another. But there’s only so much either of these friends can do as Beth is stuck grieving, pondering death and depression, and eventually realizing that her late-husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) built another house in secret that acts as a reverse of their own.
I won’t spoil things, but the film shines on two different levels. Firstly, the performance of Rebecca Hall. With a mix of black humor, emotion, and strength, she has given the role a hundred and ten percent. But just as importantly, the movie rises to meet her performance and gives us something worth watching for the atmosphere and the technical prowess.
We are shown various corners of the house because the layout is important for the story on several levels. And to see it reversed and altered as the plot progresses is quite impressive on an architectural level. Even when the film isn’t trying to be too clever, the lake is foreboding, and the music by Ben Lovett has a constant presence. Director David Bruckner (The Ritual) has respected the audience and the end result is quite impressive.
Do all the pieces fit? Perhaps the narrative doesn’t give as much detail as it could. Some scripts want to give us rules only to break them later or to help steer us toward the conclusion. The Night House has rules but they sort of fade into the background to keep things moving. Is it a bit frustrating? Maybe. I still got my money’s worth. As Beth sat with her coworkers from the school, I sat there thinking how accurate their attitude as teachers is, and after dealing with an annoying parent, she had already won the audience over. In short, the film fires on all cylinders and I’m not going out on a dock any time soon.
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