Suicide is a world of horror unto its own. For those who commit such an act, the thought of living is too paralyzing for them to bear. For those left behind – the loved ones and friends – their angst likely continues in some form of waking nightmare.
In the new horror film THE NIGHT HOUSE, the widowed Beth (Rebecca Hall) is coming to grips with her husband’s suicide and it’s a wholly haunting experience for her. Pouring over the past becomes her obsession. Beth thought she and Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) had a solid marriage and a healthy sex life, so what went wrong? She’s plagued with self-doubt, searching through his things and old videos of their wedding, looking for any kind of clues to the cracks.
Beth tries to move on with her daily routine as best she can, but it’s tough-going. At school, she picks a fight with a grumbling mother trying to better her young son’s grade, and while out with fellow teachers, the widow turns petulant. At home in the lakehouse, she brushes off her kind neighbor Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall, all grizzled and wise), and pushes away concerned bestie Claire (Sarah Goldberg, all empathetic and sweet).
One of the better qualities of THE NIGHT HOUSE lies in the complexities of Beth’s character. She is not an easy heroine to like and her edginess gives every scene tension even before things start to go bump in the night. And in Hall, the film has an actress confident enough to not play for pity. Hall makes the lead brittle and self-destructive, her dark eyes, white skin, and narrow frame giving Beth a ghostliness all her own.
Soon enough, the house seemingly turns against her. The stereo blares on unexpectedly in the middle of the night, and voices start calling her name. Beth is shaken, but she doesn’t cower in a corner. Instead, she challenges whoever, or whatever is causing such a racket, to reveal itself. It does, and it’s scary as hell. Still, despite quite a few such disturbing episodes, Beth refuses to vacate the premises.
Is all this really happening or is it a figment in Beth’s grieving imagination? Wisely, the screenplay written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, keeps the audience guessing. The scares they’ve written into the story feel honest, with no cheap jump scares in sight, or errant cats jumping out of shadows for that matter. There are some scares that are real doozies, and the entirety of it all is genuinely unsettling to watch. That’s quite significant considering there’s very little violence and even less blood.
The script throws a lot of ideas into the mix: the occult, near-death experiences, parallel planes – but they don’t all work equally well. Some ideas drift into the ether like they themselves are ghosts, but most of the script is sharp and on point. And almost all of it is unsettling.
Director David Bruckner is expert at making the most out of each spooky moment. He’s done superb work in the genre before with the likes of V/H/S (2012) and THE RITUAL (2017), but THE NIGHT HOUSE is his best work yet. I don’t scare easily, but his showmanship made me jump five times. (Even the poster is eerie.) A few plot points are left dangling at the end, and the resolution struck me as a bit too pat, but make no mistake, THE NIGHT HOUSE is one effective frightener, a real summer sleeper.