‘The Night House’ Movie Review: The Night(mare) House

The Sundance Film Festival has become well-known for delivering on the horror front, including titles such as Hereditary and The Witch. The latest is Searchlight Pictures’ The Night House, which is directed by David Bruckner and starring Rebecca Hall. He previously directed The Ritual and the V/H/S segment “Amateur Night.” He’s no stranger to incorporating the mystery of the unknown as one of the main sources of horror.

The Night House will be exclusively in theaters beginning on Aug. 20.

The halls of mystery in ‘The Night House’

See the trailer here

Beth (Hall) is a teacher whose world turns upside down when her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) suddenly dies. She’s now forced to confront her grief in the large, beautiful home that he built. Beth’s close friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) is concerned with her being in the house all by herself after such a tragedy, but she decides to stay and begin packing his things.

When strange occurrences begin to take place around the property, Beth questions what’s real and what’s not. The potential entity in her home only appears at night, but there’s no sign of it during the day. She questions whether it’s her husband or something more sinister. As Beth begins to dig through her husband’s things, she uncovers secrets that make her wonder if she ever truly knew Owen at all.

‘The Night House’ is a story of grief

Rebecca Hall looking shocked in 'The Night House'
Rebecca Hall | Searchlight Pictures

The most obvious theme of The Night House is grief. As those feelings fester, Beth’s reality becomes increasingly questionable. Is any of this really happening, or is it all a dream? This instantly brings the previous Sundance movie The Babadook to mind, where a creepy children’s book character haunts a woman and her child after the death of her husband. It touches upon many of the same questions involving grief. Given the small cast of characters, there isn’t truly a reliable narrator to latch onto.

The Night House certainly lives in the world of horror, but it’s just as much a drama and a mystery. Beyond the paranormal, the film emphasizes that we all have our secrets. With Beth’s husband dying before the start of the movie, the audience only knows as much as the remainder of the characters are willing to share about him. Beth’s memory of him twists as she begins to uncover some of his strange secrets. Is his potential presence a blessing or a curse?

The film’s plot operates under a certain duality. Day and night present two separate journeys, which ultimately connect in the climax. Beth seeks to uncover two big mysteries, which haunt her every moment. She isn’t safe from her grief or fear when she’s awake or asleep. Beth hopes that finding out the truth is the way she can finally be at peace. Is there a truth to uncover or is she foolishly wandering around in the dark?

‘The Night House’ elevates the familiar ghost story

Rebecca Hall sitting at desk in The Night House
Rebecca Hall in ‘The Night House’ | Searchlight Pictures

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A ghost story about grief is not anything new. However, The Night House takes what could have been a very streamlined story and elevates it. By introducing the drama and mystery components, Beth is given a reason to stay at the haunted house. As the movie progresses, it only becomes increasingly bonkers. The movie gets a bit overstuffed with some of its higher-level concepts, but it still tells its story effectively.

From the opening moment, The Night House generates a sense of unease. While the house has a serene beauty to it, you get the sense that something is boiling under the surface. Bruckner’s directorial style emphasizes quiet moments. The Night House has a few good jump scares, but it relies on the sudden loud noises too often. The movie has a consistent eerie quality to it that gets under the skin. This is only improved by Hall delivering a sincere and emotional leading performance.

Searchlight Pictures has been marketing The Night House as a theatrical experience. The film makes full use of its sound design. Aside from the loud jump scares, there’s a sense of movement in the audio that is made immensely more impactful in the theater. However, given the current climate with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, some audiences will have to wait to watch it from home. The Night House is emotionally intelligent, sufficiently unnerving, and thoroughly eerie.