Synopsis: Reeling from the unexpected death of her husband, a widow is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her and begins to uncover his disturbing secrets.
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin
Director: David Bruckner
Running Length: 107 minutes
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: When it came time to review The Night House, I did something I rarely, if ever, do. I watched it again. We don’t always get this luxury as critics to just fire up a film once more on our own schedule but for this particular film I had it at my disposal and was interested enough after the first watch to give it another look. This was partly due to my love for all things spooky, set in upstate New York, at/on a lake, and, like the titular dwelling, has more to it than you think at first glance. And it shouldn’t have come as a great surprise anyway, because it stars Rebecca Hall from The Awakening, one of the best ghost stories of the last decade and it’s directed by David Bruckner who took audiences to The Ritual, a creepy forest-set nightmare that viewers continue to discover on Netflix.
We meet the house before we meet Beth. It’s a modern designed feast for the eyes, not overly flashy but not exactly modest either. Hand built and designed by her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit, Together Together) and overlooking a serene lake, it was meant to be their dream home…and was until he committed suicide shortly before the film begins. A teacher, Beth (Hall, Holmes & Watson) is adjusting to her new normal, but not easily. It doesn’t help that she is awoken at night by strange noises and has picked up Owen’s old habit for sleepwalking, either. Her best friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg, The Dark Knight Rises) is encouraging and tries to be hands-off in Beth’s healing process but isn’t above saying the wrong thing by mistake and feeling guilty about it after.
Muddy footprints leading from a moored boat on their dock to the house are the first physical sign to Beth that something supernatural may be visiting her and the previous hardcore skeptic begins to doubt herself the more the signs point to a realized presence. A chance glance through Owen’s phone lands on a picture of herself that she doesn’t recognize…because it’s not her. This discovery opens Beth up to finding out more about Owen, and herself, than she could have ever imagined…increasing the intensity of the night terrors she is encountering and ramping up the danger closing in on her.
This is a well-constructed film built from solid material and I think the second watch of mine only confirmed that. While getting nitpicky could have you asking where Beth’s relatives or extended family are during this significant life crisis or if she has any other friends that would be stopping by aside from Claire, the intimacy of the small cast make the action that happens within the running time that much more tense. “Everyone’s got secrets.” says Claire to Beth after she shows her the picture of the woman (Stacy Martin, Archive) on Owen’s phone and often during the film you aren’t sure who is holding something back…making it hard to trust anyone.
The entirety of The Night House hinges on Hall’s ability to carry a woman already teetering on the brink of darkness through this trial of faith in her lost loved one. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Hall’s rounded performance is spot-on and, while often making the less-obvious choice, is consistently giving some kind of energy back out into the space she inhabits. The same goes for Goldberg who takes the best friend role to a more complex place than I’ve ever seen it. We’ve all been in a place where we struggle to express our true feelings to a friend and often that wears on us, coming out in strange ways. Goldberg harnesses this range so believably and with such naturalism that I think I would have been as interested in a movie just about the two women taking a road trip together. Completing a triumvirate of strong female performances is Martin’s skittish other woman. I’m not all together sure that Martin is destined for lasting greatness in this biz but she’s wonderfully cast her, especially against Hall’s disbelieving wife with shell-shocked eyes.
What makes The Night House so ultimately rewarding is the resolution and what kind of message its sending, but to go into those details I’d have to drop a spoiler or two, so we’ll hold back for now. Just know that while the finale starts to descend into your typical scare fest (and the movie is often quite scary throughout), the true meaning of it all is contained in a picture that’s far bigger than you think. When it’s revealed, for once it isn’t a letdown but a surprisingly touching bit of harmony between mind and spirit – and how often does that occur in genre films such as this?