By David Dent
Beth (an amazing, visceral performance from Rebecca Hall) is a woman attempting to cope with grief; her husband has, tragically and inexplicably, taken his own life by gunshot, rowing out into the middle of a lake, picturesquely situated next to the home he designed and constructed for them both.
With Owen gone Beth, in the early stages of mourning, is caught between wanting to sell and move on and being anchored to the house and its memories; she spends her days trying – unsuccessfully – to pretend that nothing is wrong at her teaching job, and by night she wanders the rooms, drinking heavily, seldom sleeping, numb to everything around her.
And it’s in this almost fugue state that Beth starts to feel the presence of Owen, still in the house. The haunting, if that’s what it is, starts almost imperceptibly: damp footprints leading up to the house, and strange creeks and groans which might be the property settling. Or something else.
Fellow teacher and friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) – does her best to integrate Beth back into real life, but the depths of Beth’s grief driven mania, and her increasingly dissociative condition, constantly draw her home: they’re further complicated when she starts to piece together, through a combination of found items in the house and her own detective work, information that suggests Owen led a dark double life; a life which might be tied in to the secrets of the house.
On the face of it, ‘The Night House’ is an oft revisited story of a persecuted woman left to go quietly crazy in a strange, possibly haunted house. And while the second half of the film might suffer a little both from explaining some plot elements too clearly and others possibly not enough, overall this is a stunning movie, excellent at capturing the claustrophobic feelings of grief and unreality surrounding the death of a loved one. The first half of the film, in particular, as Beth shifts from a sort of reality into something else, includes about the most terrifying and anxiety triggering five minutes of film I’ve encountered in quite a
Hall is incredible as Beth, the camera rarely leaving her face, fascinated with her mask of pain and shock. This performance is backed up by a nerve shredding sound design that takes the jump scare into a different dimension, and clever use of a house which performs unsettling tricks of the eye to increasingly creepy effect. Director David Bruckner knows exactly what he’s doing, how to keep the audience on edge, and when to pull the rug out from under them. He’s currently working on the ‘Hellraiser’ reboot, which now makes me officially excited about that project. Excellent stuff.
THE NIGHT HOUSE will be released in UK cinemas on 20 AUGUST 2021.