This film was screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Secluded lakeside homes are creepy, and such is the setting for “The Night House,” director David Bruckner‘s suspense-filled thriller. The film offers an anxiety-inducing, bone-chilling take on the traditional ghost story.
Left alone in the home he built for her, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is overcome with grief when her husband suddenly kills himself. His strange suicide note doesn’t leave any clues, and she tries her best to keep her life together. Desperate for answers, Beth begins to rummage through her dead husband’s belongings and finds some really, really unsettling things, including suspicions that he may have led a secret life. Grief begins to take an emotional and psychological toll, but things aren’t so bad during the daytime. It’s the nighttime that’s the worst. Because in the dark, the horrific dreams and the ghostly allure of past demons come.
This haunting film walks a fine line where dreams and reality are blurred. She hears voices calling out to her in growled whispers, sees eerie faces in the home’s architecture, and discovers that she’s begun sleepwalking. Is Beth’s mind playing tricks on her, or is something more sinister at play? The film is designed to spark arguments over what’s real and what’s imagined. Just when you think ghosts must be haunting the new widow, it becomes clear that Beth’s overwhelming grief is in control of her mind. The story becomes even more sinister when the madness causes her to become a danger to herself.
It takes a strong actor to single-handedly carry a film like this, and Hall is fantastic as a woman overwhelmed with grief. She’s even more believable when she is terrified, and the nuances in her performance are chilling. It’s exciting to see a successful female-centered horror film of the cerebral variety.
Bruckner has crafted a cleverly sinister, slow building tale of psychological fright. The suspense is often unbearable, and there are effective choices (particularly in regards to the soundtrack) that ratchet up the tension to an 11. There are the standard issue startling bangs and knocks in the night, but when a scene switches from thundering noise to total silence, it’s ruthlessly frightening. Throw in an intellectual’s interpretation of the afterlife (or lack thereof), and you’ve got a thinking person’s horror film.