The Night House, 2020.
Directed by David Bruckner.
Starring Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin, David Abeles, Christina Jackson, and Patrick Klein.
A widow begins to uncover her recently deceased husband’s disturbing secrets.
Rebecca Hall’s take on a grieving widow in director David Bruckner’s 2020 Sundance chiller The Night House is atypical, and as a result, unpredictable. This is indicated early when a confrontational mother enters her classroom, proclaiming her son received an unfair grade. He missed the deadline for an end-of-year project but, according to the mother, was told he would be able to do a replacement assignment. On that day, Beth (Rebecca Hall) was absent, meaning time ran out to make up the work. For both, the justification comes down to unforeseen circumstances in their personal lives. The mother doesn’t fully reveal what her son was going through, whereas Beth is blunt and direct, divulging that her husband took their lakehouse boat off into the distance and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
Naturally, the mother feels terrible for charging at someone over a letter grade that’s pretty trivial in comparison. However, Beth is not moping or crying; she’s firing back with spunk and willing to change the grade to whatever the mother wants. Not only is it an amusing capper to the scene, but it’s an early look that Rebecca Hall is not interested in playing a helpless cliché screaming manic. That’s not to say that she’s not actually suffering or grieving, because she is, more that she is tapping into this character from a unique angle that only grows more fascinating with more information about the reality of her marriage alongside her stance on the possibility of an afterlife (she was legally pronounced dead at a hospital following a fatal car accident and then revived, so she rightfully has firm opinions on the subject).
As much as Beth outwardly presents herself as a tough spirit ready to move on and continue working while occasionally grabbing drinks with friends, complete with a dark sense of humor capable of joking about suicide and the supernatural, isolation is another story. She’s usually picking through photographs and memories of her once-happy life, tossing anything that reminds her of her husband inside garbage bags. And when that’s enough for the night, it’s time to loot his stash of alcohol before falling asleep on the floor of different rooms each night. More concerning, she seems to zone out and lose hours at a time, even when sober.
During all that poking around, Beth comes across unusual floorplans (her husband built their serene lakeside home) and photographs of a woman that looks nearly identical to her on her husband’s phone. Going against the advice of her friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg), who wisely suggests it’s not the best idea to go digging into someone’s secret life posthumously, Beth becomes enveloped in trying to untangle the web of whatever darkness, mentally or supernaturally, her husband was battling. Of course, these developments come as a shock to Beth, who mentions that she was the one always struggling with depression and demons while her husband was the one able to keep them at bay.
Between the likely case of adultery, a spiritual presence making itself known (everything from mysterious footprints to ghostly sightings), and a local friend (played by Vondie Curtis-Hall) pushing back against Beth’s investigation while seemingly possessing more knowledge of what happened than he is letting on, The Night House (scribed by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski) frequently feels as if it’s stuffing too many ingredients into the plot, nonetheless always remaining intriguing. Even then, it’s difficult to say that all of this coalesces perfectly, but it’s for damn sure riveting as reality and nightmares tend to blur together while showing off darker urges of Beth’s husband (who is played by Evan Jonigkeit in video footage and as a tortured ghost with a distinctly eerie and ghoulish voice). The script successfully takes philosophical discussions about the afterlife, brilliantly signifying a false sense of security before Beth is thrust into what could be an otherworldly danger or something much more malicious. Either way, it’s the rare movie where selective jump scares effectively jolt the senses.
While the third act certainly has its issues (it’s not so much that some things are vague, but the lingering feeling that not all of it connects properly, especially considering how convenient aspects of the investigation fall into place), it does make for visual and sonic hypnosis that aids Rebecca Hall’s transforming into a thoroughly horrified and haunted state of mind. Be careful digging into someone’s personal life, whether it’s your son’s teacher or your late husband; what you find might be startling and terrifying with more significant consequences at play, and most importantly, something you might have never wanted to know. The plot may be overloaded, but Rebecca Hall makes expressive choices in every scene capable of selling both emotional drama and supernatural encounters (there are multiple scenes towards the end with the ghost that she commits to and makes work without it coming across as silly) to keep The Night House from crumbling down.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com