The public appetite for haunted house stories clearly hasn’t diminished over the years, with it long one of the seminal themes in horror. People just can’t get enough of the things that go bump in the night. Perhaps that explains why Searchlight shelled out 12 million dollars for the rights to David Bruckner’s THE NIGHT HOUSE, which delivers all the expected scares and does at least try to give the genre a real sense of grief and mystery even if the results are decidedly mixed.
Plot: What’s the story about?
Reeling from the unexpected death of her husband, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her. She tries as best she can to keep it together – but then nightmares come. Disturbing visions of a presence in the house calling to her, beckoning her with a ghostly allure. Against the advice of her friends, she begins digging into her husband’s belongings, yearning for answers. What she finds are secrets both strange and disturbing – a mystery she’s determined to unravel.
The film is immeasurably helped by a powerhouse lead performance by Rebecca Hall. Playing a high school teacher who, admittedly, has always struggled with depression. Perhaps the result of a near-death experience, she had as a teen. Hall expertly conveys the character’s guilt and resentment over her husband’s suicide. On the surface, Evan Konigkeit’s Owen seemed to be the calming influence in her life. Making his suicide and cryptic death note all the more puzzling. As she digs into her husband’s life, she begins to realize that there were things about him that she never knew. And these things just might have something to do with the inexplicable texts she gets from his phone and the fact that her wedding song keeps randomly playing in the middle of the night.
The premise is intriguing enough, with Hall finding photographic evidence of a certain fixation Owen seemed to have with women that look just like her, leading to some shocking discoveries.
Similar to his last film, THE RITUAL, Bruckner makes this a slow burn, with a good two-thirds of the movie playing out as more of a character-driven drama than all-out horror. Although the third act delivers the scares fans are no doubt expecting. The sound design is especially good here, so if you see it, make sure it’s in a place where the audio setup is on point. Bruckner and his sound designers do some interesting things with voices. Intentionally muffling them now and again, while the otherworldly sounds should make your hairs stand on edge. That said, I wouldn’t say THE NIGHT HOUSE is especially scary. There are some jumps, but the vibe here is meant to be more creepy in a CONJURING way than all-out terror as in something like HEREDITARY.
Hall’s performance is note-perfect, and likely THE NIGHT HOUSE wouldn’t work nearly as well without someone of her caliber in the lead. He’s also got a pretty good supporting cast, with Sarah Goldberg (of “Barry”) excellent as Hall’s supportive best pal, who’s a lot more active here than usual for the genre, while Vondie Curtis-Hall as her retired neighbor who’s trying to keep an eye out for her but also – natch – likely knows more about her husband than he’s willing to admit.
THE NIGHT HOUSE may not be the game-changer some might assume given how much it sold for, but it’s certainly a fairly commercial horror flick that should please genre fans, even if it feels more tailored for the teen date night crowd than older horror fans that might be more into edgier stuff. As always, it’s nice to see A-list actors give the genre their all, and certainly, her acting elevates what could have been a typical chiller into something well-worth checking out.