The Night House is a psychological horror film on the surface, but underneath lies a chilling love story. Its examination of the grief process, which is heightened by a tremendous lead performance, is done to near perfection. Ghost stories still have a place in the horror genre, and The Night House is a great example of that. As it plays out, audiences will be expected to piece together the puzzle behind this mystery.
Becoming immersed in this narrative is unavoidable. The Night House isn’t a complete original tale, but constantly subverts expectations. The film was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival last year. After being delayed, it will arrive in theaters this Friday. Directed by David Bruckner and written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski. The Night House stars Sarah Godlberg, Stacy Martin, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, and Rebecca Hall. The film follows Beth (Hall), newly widowed after her husband Owen (Jonigkeit) shot himself. Determined to understand why he did this, Beth unravels a darker explanation.
Meticulously told through dialogue riddled with clues and foreshadowing, The Night House is an impressive screenplay. Beginning after an apparent funeral for Owen, we are introduced to Beth, his highly depressed and heartbroken wife. School teacher by day, grief stricken mess by night, it becomes clear her depression has been a problem for a while. The Night House relies heavily on attentiveness from its audience. Its ambiguous ending is supported throughout the screenplay, but it still feels like it’s lacking. Up until its end, audiences are taken on an exhilarating ride while Beth unravels Owen’s secrets. Beth died for a few minutes as a teen, so her outlook on life hasn’t been the same since. The knowledge of this event rationalizes her jokes about death when she’s with her friends. She’s spiraling, and it’s only exacerbated by random sleep walking experiences involving an unseen force.
The Night House portrays Beth as a sympathetic widow who anyone can relate to. Her descent into madness over Owen is unnerving to watch. Her sanity is slowly declining, until this concerning behavior becomes justified. Owen did have many secrets, but they were kept hidden for a reason Beth thought she had put behind her. Luke and Piotrowski have put together a hauntingly beautiful story rooted in paranoia, love and heartbreak. The blend between horror and drama is at its best during Beth’s sleep walking. A lengthy jump scare sequence keeps the anxiety high during her ominous late night adventures. A rare instance where the jump scares are not ill-timed, or without reason.
Hall is breathtaking as Beth, she skillfully portrays a woman trying to navigate life after losing her husband. With each new piece of information related to Owen’s life, Hall channels the emotions with ease. Heartbreak grows to confusion, confusion leads to anger, and Hall’s gripping performance makes you feel just like Beth as these mood changes occur. Bruckner uses the environment to create this lingering feeling of dread that grows with each new revelation. The use of lighting and shadows to keep audiences engaged is handled masterfully.
Paced very methodically, this choice never becomes a problem for The Night House. The score rings throughout the house, as if it were part of the structure. Keeping the suspense high and becoming one with certain creaks in the house itself. Elisha Christian’s cinematography provides beautifully haunting visuals drenched in a remarkable color pallette. Specifically towards the end, the use of red lighting gives great aesthetic pleasure as the mystery comes full circle.
The Night House contradicts itself on purpose and while the ending may not live up to what came before, it’s still executed so well. Hall’s performance carries the narrative and audiences will get lost in her downward spiral. Ghost stories done in this manner, deserve every bit of praise. The Night House is a spectacular film that will make you reevaluate your life.