FANTASIA FEST 2021 REVIEW! Death, depression, mourning, and suicide brew a potent if not entirely successful mix in director David Bruckner’s horror-thriller The Night House. The film begins with Beth (Rebecca Hall) having just lost her husband to suicide. She soon begins experiencing signs that maybe he hasn’t left entirely. The usual tricks kick things off, with the stereo system downstairs suddenly turning on in the middle of the night, knocks on the door at all hours, and the odd set of muddy footsteps leading from the boat dock to the house.
Soon, however, Beth sees her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), lingering on the dock in the middle of the night, and the concerned neighbor, Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall), begins checking up on her with increased regularity. Things start to get tense at work with Beth sharing her husband’s suicide note with coworkers. Her close friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) has offered a listening ear throughout all this, but her off of getting Beth out of the house for few nights is unwelcome. Instead, she insists on lingering in the home that Owen built while attempting to contact him from beyond the grave.
Holding the entirety of The Night House together, Hall delivers an exceptional performance as a woman grieving, sliding in and out of reality. But her talents are eventually no match for a runtime that stretches things a bit and story beats that we have seen before. Without her reliable, emotional, sometimes primal performance, the film would have fallen apart. Though Hall carries the entire production on her shoulders, across the board, performances are excellent. Most notable is Goldberg as the friend that persists when Beth is trying to shut the world out.
“…[Beth] insists on lingering in the home that Owen built while attempting to contact him from beyond the grave.”
Bruckner proves himself with his first feature while indulging in the slow pace and mystery just a bit too heavily. They are great when things are sailing along, but when things slow down, well, not so much. We get a few cheap jump scares here and there but, the director is aiming for something more, and he delivers several great scenes with a high level of suspense.
There is also an excellent use of optical illusions and shadow to insinuate the presence of the otherworldly with our heroine freezing in double-take, making even the viewer ask, “Did I just see that?” Credit should also be given to the writers of The Night House, Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski. If nothing else, it is unquestionably original in its exploration of grief. Unfortunately, with that being said, the writers can’t help but slip into a few tried and true gimmicks while dropping a few plot points along the way.
When the film works, man, it works. A new evolution in horror is here with the frights living within, approaching the issues of mental illness without the stigmatization of weakness. Bruckner, Collins, and Piotrowski are to be commended for that point alone. Missteps aside, The Night House is a solid ghost story enrobed in the exploration of loss and mortality.
"…a new evolution in horror..."