Stream it or skip it?
Now on HBO Max after premiering in theaters in 2021, The night house lucky to have Rebecca Hall. The film is a disturbing horror-thriller in which she plays a woman whose grief over the loss of her husband is disrupted by strange, seemingly supernatural events. Severely underrated, Hall has had an interesting career: Prestige, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The cityChristine Chubbuck biography Christina — ESPECIALLY Christine Chubbuck organic Christinawhich you probably haven’t seen – and now this, a borderline arthouse horror film that tells us she’s a good fit for the genre.
The essential: Beth’s (Hall) husband committed suicide, and she’s not handling it well. Alcohol, sad music, anger. She barely manages at home, in the house he designed and built. On the coat, a photo of her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), smiling; another framed photo shows Beth, looking sad and contemplative. Next to the house is a lake. They have a dock and a rowboat. He pulled the boat out into the water, then put a gun to his head. He left a note, an enigmatic poem. She is alone and miserable one night when she hears a knock, which must be something other than the door slamming in the wind. There are wet footprints from the door down the steps to the dock down to the water. Is something supernatural happening, or is it hallucinatory visions inspired by grief- and alcohol-induced sleepwalking? Who knows.
Beth goes to work the next day and gets the kind of looks from her co-workers who tell us she’s coming back too early. She’s a teacher, the school year is over, she has some notes to type. Her friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) would have done it for her, but Beth says she has to take care. A woman walks in to discuss what she believes was an unfair grade given to her child, and Beth crushes the argument: “My husband shot himself in the head last Thursday.” In his voice there is rage and bitterness, an unwillingness to conform to subtleties. Dull as a hammer. Has she always been like this? We learn that she died and was resuscitated once, and it surely traumatized her. The thing is, her wounds are gaping and she just can’t cover them. Sometimes she illustrates what happened to Owen with a small gesture: gun-like fingers, next to her face, “blam,” she says. So much pain. What does she need? What can we do for her? Who knows.
The ghostly weirdness isn’t a one-time event, though. The sad song turns on and off, strange shadows and other footprints appear, a strange presence hovers, a strange light beams across the lake where there is no house. She rummages through Owen’s belongings, finds strange books that seem vaguely occult; plans for a “reverse floor plan” version of the house; a cellphone photo of a woman who looks a bit like Beth but isn’t Beth, leading to the laptop and several other photos of superficially similar brown-haired women. The mystery deepens with a walk around the lake, to the inverted house, hidden in the woods, unfinished, covered with tarps. Is it real or is Beth losing her grip on reality? Right: who knows. Anyway, we have the heebies.
What movies will this remind you of? : Also from the actress extraordinaire raises a department of horror films: Toni Collette in HereditaryEssie Davis in The Babadook. (In reality, The night house and The Babadook both feature ethereal villains in the same way.)
Performance to watch: Without Hall’s full commitment, The night house would be an empty house. She injects heaps of compelling unspoken detail into her character, and it’s the kind of work that turns a potentially silly movie into a powerful one.
Memorable dialogue: Beth is equally blunt about what she saw when she was dead for a few minutes: “I wish I could tell you something – a light at the end of the tunnel. There is only one tunnel.
Sex and skin: Nothing.
Our opinion : There’s a scene at the back of the film where Beth, in the eye of a confusing supernatural hooey tornado, releases pent-up angst and grief, and in that moment Hall cuts through the nonsense – admittedly weird but nonsense nonetheless – and grounds the proceedings in tangibly raw emotion. It had to happen, lest the film lose us in a flurry of unusual, yet equally obscure, ghostly shenanigans. The movie is a badass, not just spoon-feeding us the usual tale of vengeful ghosts or warning-delivering spirits. Hint: Google “caerdroia” – the subject of one of Owen’s weird books – for a piece of The night houseis the strange narrative puzzle.
Or if rabbit holes on the internet aren’t your thing, you might just enjoy the spooky atmosphere that director David Buckner conjures up with sound design, locations – especially this house – and an unsettling song by Richard and Linda Thompson. , “The Calvary Cross”. Hall’s characterization of a deeply troubled woman is extraordinary, turning Beth’s blunt candor and prickly demeanor into just another way of building walls around herself; it’s a hard angle on the usual explorations of mental illness we see in movies, its complexity lending authenticity. It’s also a new take on the old cliché that you can never really know another person. The film may take a few legwork to fully decode, and whether it really weaves its myriad mystical strands into a tight narrative is up for debate. It may make more sense on a second watch, and Hall’s work all but assures that it would be a rewarding experience.
Our call: SPREAD IT. The night house is a thoughtful and chilling psychological ghost-slash-thriller story.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. To learn more about his work, visit johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.
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