The sum of The Night House’s parts don’t quite add up to a satisfying conclusion, yet the journey to reach the disappointing finale is worth the investment if only for the stunning performance by Rebecca Hall. Directed by David Bruckner (The Ritual, V/H/S’s best segment, “Amateur Night”), The Night House delivers a sprinkling of well-choreographed jump scares and thrills but the script by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski contains a series of complicated twists that ultimately don’t payoff.
Hall stars as Beth, a schoolteacher dealing with the sudden death of her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). Owen’s suicide was unexpected and Beth’s still reeling from the loss of her lover as The Night House opens.
Owen designed and built the gorgeous, sprawling lake house that Beth now occupies alone. She watches their wedding video and gently caresses the empty space on the bed as she works her way through the grieving process.
Any peace Beth hoped to obtain in this lonely home is shattered after a series of supernatural events. There’s unexplained pounding at her door when no one is there. Wet footprints begin by the lake and make their way past the boat where Owen took his life and up the wooden dock. Music turns itself on in the wee hours of the morning, and at one point Beth believes she’s messaging with her deceased husband.
But is this all a dream or is there a ghostly presence desperately trying to make itself known? Is Beth actually wandering her home at night in hopes of confirming she’s not actually alone? As The Night House unfolds, Beth’s grip on reality becomes increasingly tenuous. Line’s blur and the terror level rises as Beth edges ever so slowly closer to discovering the truth.
The R-rated thriller is basically a one-hander with sporadic appearances by Sarah Goldberg (Barry) as Beth’s closest friend, Claire, and Vondie Curtis-Hall (For the People) as a nearby neighbor named Mel who also recently suffered the loss of a spouse. Claire and Mel serve as sounding boards and key voices of reason as Beth spirals downward during her relentless quest to learn if the Owen she loved existed or if that version was simply a layer of camouflage disguising a more feral reality.
Rebecca Hall’s Beth appears to be solidly in the anger stage of grief for much of the film. When Beth discovers secret journals hidden from her during Owen’s life that contain bizarre and frightening references to the supernatural and the occult, Rebecca Hall’s imbues those scenes with a healthy dose of skepticism, frustration, and a deep, sustained sadness. The deeper down the rabbit hole Beth descends, the more layers Hall creates for the character. It’s a fascinating, gripping performance that solidifies Hall as one of the finest – and most underrated – actors of her generation.
Searchlight’s The Night House tosses in awkward and unnecessary twists, and even with a swift nearly two-hour running time there are scenes that play out too slowly. Hall’s terrific performance elevates this thriller. It’s unfortunate the final act lets her down.
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, disturbing images, some sexual references, and language
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Release Date: August 20, 2021