The Night House is a knowing horror film. It’s aware that the more appealing aspect isn’t the presence of ghosts or a creepy house. All of that stuff is still present but that’s not the main draw for such a film that aims to be more than your average haunted house movie.
Instead of trying to provide concrete answers to the demonic doings, this film focuses more on powerful emotions. Any film can make things go bump in the night. It takes a more compelling film to make those bumps bigger scares that torture the soul.
Beth (Rebecca Hall) has just gone through the worst event of her life. Her husband, Owen, committed suicide on their lakefront property. Why he did so is a mystery that Beth doesn’t feel as compelled to answer.
Owen’s spirit still lingers in Beth’s mind. She finds herself slightly triggered by the footsteps in the dirt and the boat on the dock. It’s hard not to think of Owen going out on that boat and pulling the trigger. The gunshot still rings in her ears.
Seeking to distract herself, Beth gravitates back towards her teaching job. She also goes out for drinks with her friends. Her admittance of the event only comes about in bits and pieces. It’s a topic she feels odd about, somewhere between bitterness and sadness.
A Dark Mystery
As Beth becomes more haunted by the loss of Owen, she starts looking through his stuff. The initial response to being comforted by the past takes a darker turn. She happens upon some blueprints which doesn’t seem too strange since Owen was into construction.
But the blueprints turn out to be for some strange house. It is not her home but a house built in the woods. Even more strange are the additional books she finds about the demonic with highlighted passages.
The more Beth digs into trying to uncover Owen’s secrets, the more shocked she becomes. Discoveries of sexual affairs and his drinking problem are concerning for Beth. Even more shocking, however, is trying to handle some sort of evil Beth can’t quite shake.
A Spooky House
On a scare level, The Night House is a technically astounding spook house. Beth’s home slowly increases in creeks and twisted visions. She starts with being woken up by a loud stereo and ends with being drug around the halls by a demonic spirit.
There are many brilliant moments of surrealness. Beth often finds herself remembering Owen in a different light; one where he is more abusive and dangerous. Owen was certainly no saint and yet Beth finds herself drawn back to him if only to touch him one last time.
The special effects are quite strong in this department. The way that Beth embraces the invisible spirit she believes to be Owen is subtly brilliant. It’s believable enough that the scene can feel more touching rather than trying to look for the pixels or the wires.
A Deeper Tale
One aspect that is sure to anger some is that The Night House never gives clear answers. The mysterious house is never fully explained, despite how much Beth digs into the supernatural elements. While this aspect is certainly intriguing, that’s not the central drive.
So if you’re hoping that this film will provide some concrete explanation for why some guy was possessed to build a maze of death, this may not be the movie for you. If you’re more interested in the film’s contemplation on grief, then this is the movie for you.
On that level, this movie really works by highlighting what’s important. The arc that Beth goes through is so emotionally charged with both catharsis and sadness. By the climax of the film, her own questioning of carrying on really hits a powerful note.
Some Strong Performances
Hall’s performance as Beth is incredibly nuanced. She goes through a wave of emotions that are not easy to process. Just watch how she reacts to meeting her husband’s mistress with a sense of brooding, intrigue, and contentment.
There are some great supporting performances as well. Sarah Goldberg plays a concerned friend who struggles to find the right way to approach Beth. Vondie Curtis-Hall plays Beth’s neighbor who tries to help her out but also shields her from Owen’s darker past.
The Night House is so brilliantly atmospheric that it becomes far more cerebral than I expected. It’s a moody and brooding inner look at the turmoil of handling suicide. At the same time, it also gets to have its eerie cake and eat it too.
The nitpickers can grovel all they like that they don’t fully understand the allegory of the night house. What matters most is the emotional journey and the real terror of isolation and nihilism. This is a fantastic piece of horror that treats the morals as the meat and the frights as the frosting.
Did you see The Night House in theaters? Was it scary or not scary enough? How does it compare to The Invisible Man? Let us know in the comments below.
The Night House
A creepy and atmospheric horror that becomes far more than your average haunted house picture.
- Deeply contemplative horror.
- Creepy atmosphere and frights.
- Fantastic balance of grief and the supernatural.
- Ambles too much in some spots.
- Frights more technically appealing than terrifying.