VOD film review: The Night House
Ivan Radford | On 29, Oct 2021
Director: David Bruckner
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin
“There is nothing. Nothing is after you.” Those are the words that schoolteacher Beth (Rebecca Hall) has to cling to for comfort after the death of her husband. Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). We learn that he shot himself just a week ago at pretty much the same time as one of the parents of her pupils – something that Beth reveals to them with a candid, acerbic bluntness, almost delighting in seeing the same shock play out over their face. It’s here that The Night House sets out its floorplan with a chilling impact – it’s a haunting tale of grief, rooted in Rebecca Hall’s remarkable performance.
David Bruckner, who previously helmed The Ritual, gives her the space to make Beth cruel and callous as well as hollowed out by grief. Above all, though, she’s consumed by confusion, from the discovery that her husband even had a gun to the question of what led to his death. That cocktail of unknown answers is what keeps her awake at night in the lake house that Owen built for them. But without him, the hall of windows and mirrors turns into a limbo of reflections and distorted memories, and the film slowly tilts us into a world of doppelgängers.
The more Beth digs into what happened to her husband, the more she unearths buried secrets that hint at darker forces at play, and the script from Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski uses that mystery as a prism through which to explore the unknowability of death – we soon discover that Beth is also recovering from her own near-death experience not long ago.
Bruckner packs in enough efficient jump scares to rattle the nerves, but he’s best when letting his camera glide through the gloom. Most effective of all is the way the film balances the ghostly sightings with corporeal echoes – such as Stacy Martin as Madelyne, who was possibly having an affair with Owen and who looks not unlike Beth. That means the best set pieces, such as a genuinely creepy bathroom scene involving words written in a steamy mirror, have a physicality as well as a supernatural quality, which leaves us with only Hall’s emotional anchor as the constant to cling to.
The final act may not be the most satisfying, but that’s not really the point – The Night House is about the journey to that destination, a widow’s obsessive search for answers, and Hall’s gritted, on-edge determination grounds each discovery in pain and tangible terror.