The Night House review – Why did I watch this alone and at night?

The Night House review – Why did I watch this alone and at night?

There is an extremely well designed scare in The Night House that I can’t seem to shake. It’s not a jump scare, nor is it a particularly horrifying image. Nope, it’s just a simple silhouette. It’s not a shadow cast on any surface, but an image made by the line assumed in the cutaway edge of a pillar. Remember the optical illusion of the vase that also looks like two faces kissing? It’s like that. It’s ever so subtle, and only becomes a concrete spook when the humanoid image turns its assumed head towards our protagonist. Once again, this is not done quickly, suddenly, or with any amount of bombast. It’s the turn of a head like any other, and it’s all I can think about now when I try to go to sleep.

This scare is a microcosm for the movie on the whole. The Night House is a slow burn, and it’s one that avoids the shrieky toolbox of so many other mainstream horror entries. For that reason alone, it’s worth seeing.

There are many other pleasures to be found within, of course, but the one that stands out is the gigantic performance from Rebecca Hall. Here she plays Beth, a recently widowed teacher who isn’t responding very well to the sudden, tragic death of her husband. She’s snippy at work, emotionally manipulative to her friends, and rudely dismissive of anyone kind enough to offer a helping hand. Who could blame her? Grief takes different forms for different people and few of them are pretty. Things are doubly hard for Beth due in part to the nature of her husband’s passing, as well as to the fact that he built their house with his bare hands. Every fiber of every surface of Beth’s home is a reminder of her loss. Where there was once nothing but love, now there are markers of death permeating the structure down to its foundation. And then a ghost shows up.

Fuckin ghosts, right?

The bulk of the film tracks Beth’s descent into grief-driven madness, fueled by a compelling mystery, the clues to which bleed out of the house itself, manifesting in her dreams, her thoughts, and soon into the real world. As these supernatural occurrences pile up, and a distraught Beth seeks to define them, she learns that her current circumstances might be part of something much larger than a simple trauma response — something that reaches far back into her past.

Much in the same way The Babadook invoked themes of anxiety, or It Follows used the terror of pending adulthood to fuel its frights, The Night House successfully builds a complicated, complex, and scary fable of grief. Anyone who has suffered a great loss will recognize behavioral patterns put forth by our heroine, and likely see themselves in her. I know I sure did, and it’s through these moments of audience empathy that the film is able to sink its horrifying hooks into the viewer. As we beg for Beth to just stop poking the bear (as does her kindly neighbor, played by the wonderful Vondie Curtis-Hall, whose empathetic performance paves over the fact that he’s just a plot machine), we also recognize the illogical drive that prevents any single minded sufferer from stopping their quest for answers. It’s the ultimate feeling of don’t go in there made even scarier by the fact that any one of us would absolutely keep going in there.

Director David Bruckner, from a script by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, brings the audience further into Beth’s circumstances using subtle visual tricks (like the aforementioned silhouette gag) as opposed to bombastic jump scares, allowing the fear to creep in slowly, while purposefully disorienting editing is used to represent Beth’s suboptimal mental state. Throughout the course of the film these tricks become more and more apparent, but they never lose their ability to chill. At points there is a bit of a disconnect between the pace and the material, where the mystery becomes so compelling that it’s hard to wait through the creeping dread for a resolution. Although said resolution is uncommonly satisfying (and suuuuper heady), I did find myself wanting one or two classic jolts to shake things up a bit. Still, empty jump scares are easy to forget. It’s the slow burns that stick around longest, and The Night House uses directorial panache, a clever script, and an absolute knockout of a central performance to stoke indelible fear in the heart of the viewer. I will never look at the shadows in my bedroom the same way again. Thank you for ruining my life, The Night House.

Directed by David Bruckner

Written by Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski

Starring Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Evan Jonigkeit

Rated R, 108 minutes

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