Review: Ominous 'The Night House' worth checking into
Courtesy of Searchlight
Invoking fond memories of watching “What Lies Beneath,” David Bruckner’s atmospheric thriller “The Night House” sees an excellent Rebecca Hall playing a widower searching for answers and unearthing shocking discoveries about why her late husband decided to take his own life. Filled with sophisticated uneasiness which slowly builds with classic Hitchcockian inspired madness, “The Night House” might not be fondly remembered for how quickly it botches the ending-especially when the first two thirds are exceptional-but a slippery premise that features some startling imagery and commendable jump scares isn’t the worst legacy.
A considerable promotion in terms of scale and budget, Bruckner, best known from “The Signal” and directing shorts for the “V/H/S” anthology, settles into his groove with a bigger lens while still maintaining a clear line of focus. A major hit when it premiered at Sundance in 2020 and quickly scooped up by Searchlight, “The Night House” follows Hall playing the grief stricken Beth, a teacher residing in a small coastal town piecing together what led her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), who took their boat into the middle of the lake behind their house, to put a bullet in his head. Beth didn’t even know they owned a gun let alone Owen’s depression and the cryptic sucide note he left behind (“You were right, there is nothing, nothing after you”) doesn’t paint the clearest picture.
As Bruckner ratchets up the tension and unspools Owen’s secret livelihood, Beth starts hearing noises and feeling a strange presence in their lake house not far removed from Elizabeth Moss’ in “The Invisible Man.” But this supernatural force isn’t the work of an abusive husband trying to get back at his wife, rather an indication of what might happen beyond the grave, which Beth had always felt, following a near death incident, was mute. After we get past the mountain of exposition and all the coworkers and friends who offer Beth a shoulder to cry on, “The Night House” becomes an intersecting tale caught in the mirror of two worlds which Bruckner orchestrates like a fine symphony, infusing the proceedings with some crafty audio jolts, and enlisting David Marks slick editing to keep the tempo steady and the audience guessing.
Co-written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, the opening 45-minutes of “The Night House” would suggest more than a simplistic tale of a women trying to exhume her husband’s secrets, but alas the formulaic trajectory and shockless ending crept up so fast, you almost don’t know what happened. This registers “The Night House” as another horror flick where the payoff wasn’t necessarily worth the build-up, but the filmmakers deserve credit for taking the bold and creative swing. None of it would even be engaging, however, without Hall, an incredibly gifted actress who doesn’t teter on the side of absurd and manages to ground the material in reality, even if that feeling leaves the viewer yearning for a sense of closure.
THE NIGHT HOUSE opens in theaters Friday, August 20th