Now on VOD, The night house is lucky to have Rebecca Hall. The film is a disturbing horror thriller in which she plays a woman whose grief over the loss of her husband is disturbed by strange, seemingly supernatural events. Severely underrated, Hall has an interesting career: Prestige, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The city, Christine Chubbuck organic Christine – ESPECIALLY Christine Chubbuck organic Christine, which you probably haven’t seen – and now this, a bordering arthouse horror flick that tells us it’s well suited to the genre.
The essential: Beth’s husband (Hall) has committed suicide, and she is not dealing with it well. Alcohol, sad music, anger. She barely manages at home, in the house he designed and built. On the coat, a photo of her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), smiling; another framed photo is of Beth, looking sad and contemplative. Next to the house is a lake. They have a wharf and a rowboat. He took the boat out of the water, then put a gun to his head. He left a note, a cryptic poem. She’s alone and miserable one night when she hears a knock, which must be something more than the door slamming in the wind. There are wet footprints from the door down the steps to the dock to the water. Is something supernatural happening, or are these hallucinatory visions inspired by sleepwalking induced by grief and alcohol? Who knows.
Beth heads to work the next day and gets the kind of looks from her coworkers that tell us she’s coming back too early. She is a teacher, the school year is over, she has notes to enter. Her friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) would have done it for her, but Beth says she needs to take care of it. A woman walks in to discuss what she thinks was an unfair rating given to her child, and Beth rolls the argument, “My husband shot himself in the head last Thursday.” In his voice mingle rage and bitterness, a reluctance to bow to subtleties. Blunt like a hammer. Has she always been like this? We learn that she passed away and was resuscitated once, and it surely traumatized her. The point is, her wounds are gaping and she just can’t cover them. Sometimes she illustrates what happened to Owen with a small gesture: pistol-shaped fingers next to his face, “blame,” she said. So much pain. What does she need? What can we do for her? Who knows.
Ghostly strangeness is not a one-off event, however. The sad song turns on and off, strange shadows and other footprints appear, a strange presence hovers, a strange light radiates across the lake where there is no home. She rummages through Owen’s belongings, finds strange books that seem vaguely occult; plans for a “reverse floor plan” version of the house; a cellphone photo of a woman who looks a bit like Beth but isn’t Beth, which leads to the laptop and several other shots of women with superficially similar brown hair. The mystery deepens with a walk around the lake, to the inverted doppelganger house, hidden in the woods, unfinished, covered with tarpaulins. Is it real, or is Beth losing her grip on reality? Right: who knows. Either way, we have the heebies.
What movies will this remind you of? : Also from the actress extraordinary raises a department of horror films: Toni Collette in Hereditary, Essie Davis in The Babadook. (In reality, The night house and The Babadook both feature equally ethereal villains.)
Performances to watch: Without Hall’s full commitment, The night house would be an empty house. She injects loads of compelling unspoken detail into her character, and it’s the kind of work that turns a potentially silly movie into a powerful one.
Memorable dialogue: Beth is equally blunt about what she saw when she was dead for a few minutes: “I wish I could tell you something – a light at the end of the tunnel.” There is only one tunnel.
Gender and skin: Nothing.
Our opinion : There’s a scene at the back of the movie where Beth, in the eye of a puzzling supernatural hooey tornado, unleashes pent-up angst and grief, and at that moment Hall cuts through the nonsense – admittedly strange but nonetheless absurd – and grounds the procedure in tangibly raw emotion. It had to happen, lest the film lose us in a flurry of unusual, but also obscure, ghostly shenanigans. The movie is a tough nut to crack, one that doesn’t just tell us with a spoonful of the usual tale of vengeful ghosts or spirits issuing warnings. Hint: Google “caerdroia” – the subject of one of Owen’s weird books – for a piece of The night houseweird narrative puzzle.
Or if internet rabbit holes aren’t your bag, you might just enjoy the spooky atmosphere director David Buckner conjures up with the sound design, the locations – especially this house – and an unsettling song by Richard and Linda Thompson. , “The Calvary Cross”. Hall’s characterization of a deeply troubled woman is extraordinary, turning Beth’s brutal frankness and thorny demeanor into another way of building walls around herself; it’s a harsh angle on the usual explorations of mental illness we see in movies, its complexity producing authenticity. It’s also a new take on the old cliché that you never really get to know another person. The film may take a few leg steps to fully decode, and whether it truly weaves its myriad mystical strands into a tight narrative is up for debate. This may make more sense on a second watch, and Hall’s work ensures it would be a rewarding experience.
Our call: Stream it. The night house is a thoughtful and truly scary psychological thriller, slash and ghost story.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work on johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.
Where to stream The night house