The Night House
Directed by David Bruckner
Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski
Starring Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin, Vondie Curtis-Hall
Classifying horror stories has been a bit of a challenge, especially as creators move away from the Jason’s, the Freddy’s and the Chucky’s. I was going to add the Candyman’s too. Seeing as there’s a reboot coming that looks quite good, I can’t totally dismiss the slasher-horror genre. They have been replaced with the horror-thriller. The common theme is the psychological impact of the chills and thrills that come from these types of stories.
David Bruckner’s “The Night House” is a modern, more adult oriented drama that uniquely bridges the slasher horrors with something like the “Scream” series – intelligent stories that question whether what’s happening to our characters are manifested in their minds or in their environment.
Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski manage to do both with “The Night House.” At its center is Rebecca Hall as Beth, a recent widower who is so unnerved by her husband’s recent death. As a teacher, she must have patience and understanding. Left in the lakeside home her husband, Owen built, Beth begins to have nightmares related to her husband. As these nightmares begin to become reality, Beth questions who her husband really was with a trail of questions and few answers.
In a film full of strength, in storytelling and visuals, Rebecca Hall stands out as Beth. You almost get the sense that she is Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz” as everything that happens in the movie is centered around her. From that vantage point, the lines of reality and nightmare begin to blur. Bruckner (“V/H/S,” “The Signal”) is a steady hand at keeping Beth on her toes while keeping the hairs on the napes our necks on end for the entire 118-minute run time.
Hall, who gives up her British accent for this role, is strong and devoted. When clues begin to appear around her husband’s past, she is compelled to discover who he was. Bruckner uses this to create an environment in which we question what’s nightmare and what’s reality. The blending between the two is seamless. It is interesting that the character is a teacher. She is required to have poise and decorum, and above all else, patience. There’s a scene early in the film, where the story reveals what happened to her husband and Beth lays it out in front of a disgruntled parent over a grade. There’s a great blend of dark humor, resilience, and pangs of horror from both the parent and from Beth. It could have been an uncomfortable situation, but the humor displayed by Beth along with her poise enhances the scene.
Sarah Goldberg plays Claire, a co-worker and Beth’s best friend. The relationship between Goldberg and Hall is strong; you could see the actors being friends in real life and the bond between the two characters is nearly unbreakable. In an homage to “Vertigo,” Stacy Martin plays Madelyne, a book shop employee who Owen knew. Her role is small, but key to the story, and as the character stands her ground, you know that Beth’s tests and trials will become more difficult as the story moves along.
You’d think that Mel played by Vondie Curtis-Hall would be the nosy neighbor. In fact, along with Claire, he plays Beth’s lifeline. The way the character unfolds, you’d expect him to be something that he turns out not to be. Collins and Piotrowski have other plans for him, and Bruckner sits behind the camera, orchestrating this entire affair.
Shot in upstate New York, the tree-lined lake that the house sits on obscures the lines between the house and the lake, making it the perfect setting for “The Night House.” The house is designed as a modern space with wood accents and sleek lines, building the suspense in just the right way. Since most of the scenes were shot at night or in darker interiors, these touches could have proved difficult for even a seasoned cinematographer. Elisha Christian served as Director of Photography and her experience on independent features and shorts prepared her for this film and she serves admirably.
Searchlight was wise to hold off on trying to release the movie during the pandemic, having opened to acclaim at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. “The Night House” might leave you with questions and wanting a second trip. That’s the key to its success. The look and feel of the film, David Bruckner’s tight direction and Rebecca Hall’s stellar turn as Beth will draw you in and keep you coming back for more.
R, 118 minutes, Searchlight