"The Night House" brings unsteady shocks — but Rebecca Hall delivers the goods
The Night House
Starring Rebecca Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis Hall, Stacy Martin, David Abeles and Christina Jackson. Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski. Directed by David Bruckner. Opens in theatres Friday. 108 minutes. 14A
Over the course of Rebecca Hall's nearly 30-year career, we've come to know her as an intelligent actor who often plays smart and cynical characters. She's not the type to be afraid of ghosts or even to believe in them.
So when her schoolteacher character Beth in "The Night House" sees something that shocks and disturbs her, as so often happens within the film's cascading supernatural horror, you know it has to be really scary. Hall has done creepy and disturbing movies before — "Christine" and "Dorian Gray" leap to mind — but this one establishes her genuine affinity for tales that go bump in the night.
Many of the images are indeed the stuff of bad dreams, suggesting shadows that lurk, pounce and possess.
Director David Bruckner ("The Ritual") hurtles into explaining Beth's discomfiture and then relentlessly adds to it. Silent foreshadowing comes first: A gliding camera inside an empty home reveals many happy photos of Beth with her architect/builder husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit).
Then Beth arrives in funeral attire at that same abode, a beautiful lake house that Owen built for them. We learn that Owen, fighting the bleakest of depressions, recently rowed out to the middle of the lake and shot himself in the face. He left behind a note that gave no reason for his act, other than to confirm the nothingness Beth spoke of after her near-death experience years before.
Why did Owen kill himself? Why didn't he confide in her?
"I didn't think we had secrets," Beth tells Claire (Sarah Goldberg), her friend and colleague.
"Everybody has secrets," Claire replies, advising Beth not to look for answers that she may not be able to live with. She gets similar advice from her kindly neighbour, Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall). Just let it go, they both tell her.
Stoic in her grief, Beth can't let it go: "I want to know." Her sleuthing leads to a series of bizarre clues that point to a hidden double existence for Owen, a life through the looking glass. There are photos of strange yet oddly familiar women in his phone. A note in Owen's architectural sketchbook reads, "Trick it, don't listen to it."
Jump scares are plentiful, as Beth plunges deeper into the darkness. The sound design really makes your skin crawl, though, especially repeated spins of "The Calvary Cross," a haunting song by Richard and Linda Thompson that speaks of being possessed by an indefinable urge: "Everything you do / You do for me."
It's hard to sustain a mood this intense, and "The Night House" ultimately loses its grip. The many absurdities of the plot can't carry the weight of expectations, making this very much a B-grade ghost story.
But it's one with A-list talent in Rebecca Hall, who makes terror all the more real because she refuses to yield to it. 🌗