SUNDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Death, depression, mourning, and suicide brew a potent if not entirely successful mix in the new horror thriller The Night House. Beth (Rebecca Hall) has just lost her husband to suicide at the beginning of the film but soon begins experiencing signs that maybe he hasn’t left entirely. Holding the entire movie 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.
The usual tricks kick things off, with the stereo system downstairs suddenly turning on in the middle of the night, knocks at the door at all hours, and the odd set of muddy footsteps leading from the boat dock to the house. Soon, however, Beth is seeing her husband lingering Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), lingering on the boat dock in the middle of the night, and the concerned neighbor (Vondie Curtis-Hall) begins checking up on Beth with increased regularity. That’s not to mention things start to get tense at work with Beth sharing her husband’s suicide note with coworkers. Even close friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) offers a listening ear and a few nights out. Yet Beth insists on lingering in the home that her deceased husband built while attempting to make contact with him from beyond the grave.
“…lost her husband to suicide at the beginning of the film but soon begins experiencing signs that maybe he hasn’t left entirely.”
Director David Bruckner proves himself with his first feature while indulging in the slow pace and mystery just a bit too heavily. When things are sailing along, they are great. When things slow down, well, not so much. We get a few cheap jump scares here and there but, Bruckner 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 script from Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski that, if nothing else, is unquestionably original in its exploration of grief. Yet can’t help itself from slipping into a few tried and true gimmicks and dropping a few plot points.
Across the board, performances are excellent, with Hall carrying the entire film on her shoulders. Without her reliable, emotional, sometimes primal performance, the film would have fallen apart. Notable, too, is Goldberg’s Claire for being the friend that persists when Beth is trying to shut the world out.
When The Night House 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.
The Night House screened at the Sundance 2020 Film Festival.
"…A new evolution in horror is here with the frights living within."