The Night House manages to be a rather engaging psychological horror.
Published on August 20, 2021
Rating 4 /5
Beth (Rebecca Hall) is a woman who finds herself in a very uneasy situation. On her lakefront home, her husband Owne (Evan Jonigkeit) went out on a boat one night and killed himself with a gunshot to his face. She tries to go back to her job teaching and going out for drinks with friends but it’s not something to easily recover from. So many questions linger about why her husband felt the need to kill himself. What was he hiding? What made him feel that life wasn’t worth living? Part of Beth wants answers but another part of her may not be prepared for what she discovers.
Beth becomes a character easy enough to sympathize with early on considering her frustrations in handling these emotions. She walks outside and can still feel the presence of her husband. The footsteps in the dirt and the sound of a gunshot seem so vivid in her mind, to the point where she starts hearing gunshots in her mind. Her neighbor, Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall), tries to help her out but there’s only so much he can do to help her cope. At school, she finds herself easily angered by a frustrated parent who complains about her son’s grades. Not willing to put up with such complaining, Beth confesses her situation and relents bitterly to giving the student a B, threatening an A if the parent becomes more belligerent in her privileged tone.
It’s only once Beth starts going through her husband’s stuff that she starts to suspect there was something more sinister behind her husband’s death. With her husband being big into construction, she found architectural plans but didn’t count on one of those plans being for a maze. Why a maze? And what of this book of the mystical and supernatural with certain sections highlighted? A small figure statue with needles in the body sure does seem ominous.
Thankfully, such a film doesn’t turn into some easy resolve of there being some evil spirit behind her husband’s death. The focus remains mostly focused on Beth’s grief and how she deals with it. She’s not only feeling uncertain of the future but haunted by the past, viewing Owen’s darker side that she either doesn’t recognize or chooses not to recognize. There’s an aspect where she’d like to believe there is more considering the more believable secrets she discovers. Owen apparently had an affair with another woman and was an alcoholic who confessed to Mel about his demons. Whether those demons were literal or figurative is still up for debate in Beth’s mind, considering Owen was doing something mysterious in the woods.
The film is one part haunted-house mystery and one part somber contemplation on grief. Beth finds herself increasingly haunted by Owen’s spirit, taking the form of the radio turning on or creeks in the floors. Shadows and formations in the house start to take his form in a manner that both fascinates and terrifies her. The visual effects are quite stellar for trying to showcase how Owen’s spirit lingers and the darker aspects of his soul come into the light. There’s some great effects of Beth watching herself be harassed by Owen in violent episodes through either windows or the reflections of a mirror. All of this drives Beth so mad that it amps up her depressed state to such a degree where starts seeing some peace in suicide.
The Night House manages to be a rather engaging psychological horror. It not only finds some amazing areas to explore in how one processes grief but manages to be a genuinely scary picture in questioning our own perceptions of the hereafter. Where most films only seem to truly favor one side or the other, director David Bruckner manages to find a brilliant merging of the psychological and supernatural in this stirring thriller.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.