Directed By David Bruckner
Starring – Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall
The Plot – A widow begins to uncover her recently deceased husband’s disturbing secrets.
Rated R for some violence/disturbing images, and adult language including some sexual references
– Atypical mold. “The Night House” is a psychological horror film above all else, and one that attains with it the adaptability to surmise some enticing levels of unpredictability with it along the way. Because this is the story of a dissolving marriage ripping apart at the seams, there’s plenty of insight and investigation about the terrifying reality of marrying someone who you truly don’t know or understand, even long after they’re gone, but it’s what the film says about our protagonist, played by Hall, which was most rewarding to me, especially as we start to establish some of the baggage that her character brings to the forefront of the narrative. With dissections about grief, depression, and internal longing, there’s plenty that I myself was able to attach myself towards that I felt worked terrifically with a conventional ghost or haunted house gimmick, all the while fleshing out a paranormal enveloping that often distorts and challenges what you’re seeing as reality through the eyes of someone with miles of emotional and physical baggage conveying a bigger emphasis.
– Refined direction. Bruckner is a director who I’ve appreciated previously with his ambitious-but-trivial turn in Netflix’s “The Ritual”, but with a bigger budget and meaningful pieces of production here turns in his most exceptional work to date, and one that proves he belongs among the best of contemporary horror directors. For my money, it’s David’s use of shapes and shadows in the context of the scintillating atmosphere that he crafts that is most nourishing to the integrity of the thrills, relying more on the element of vulnerability over cheap jump scares that often oversaturate these thrillers. On top of it all, it’s the look and personality of the presentation supplanted to the film that is most authentic to the enveloping nature of death and ensuing grief, and giving us a taste for loneliness and isolation that is every bit dreadful as it is emotionally paralyzing for how it humbles our heroine.
– Artistic value. Not to be outdone by the heft instilled by the movie’s meaningful themes, the cinematography from Elisha Christian is every bit as up to the task in executing something seamless to the tempo and atmosphere of the presentation. Similar to what was attained in 2019’s “The Invisible Man”, Christian materializes uneasiness and dread in sequences of lingering persistence, making us the audience not only question what we’re seeing in the dark, dreary distance, but also presenting several red-herrings to throw off the expectation of predictability along the way. Elisha also harvests a balanced intoxication of movements and framing to the camera that allow it to move freely from room to room without interruption, while conveying in essence that this grieving widow is never alone at any given time.
– Disjointed editing. With a header like that, you would expect this to be in my negatives column. However, the production does a remarkable job at intentionally confusing audiences in a way that illustrates the cloudiness of Beth’s descending psyche, with a stitching that blurs the line of clarity accordingly with the often paranormal imagery that we’re interpreting. As evidenced in the movie’s marketing trailer, Beth is sometimes shown in two different areas of the same room simulataneously, and this with the shifting of various objects of the interior designs between scenes gives it, and our protagonist, an off-putting range to reality that constantly keeps audiences guessing, while attaining a uniqueness of presentational identity that plays into the ominousness of the environment that is a constant in Bruckner’s late-night slowburn.
– The setting. Picking perfection in a place that conjures up isolation, immensity, and transparency accordingly is a tough enough task, but when articulated with the urban hub of the Syracuse countryside becomes seamless in balancing each of these ingredients capably. This is most important to Beth’s disconnected disposition to the outside world, illustrating the loneliness and quiet in the air with a crippling consistency that establishes the house itself as the living, breathing antagonist to the promise of her well-being. It’s the literal reflection of the internal struggle that is only hinted at with Hall’s uneasy edginess in personality with her approach to the character, and seems to play into the ages old credo that bigger houses point to bigger problems in the dynamic of the families with no shortage of mounting secrets.
– Scene-stealer. Once again, Hall hands in another spellbindingly raw performance that forces you to dig in deep to the ambiguity of her various demeanors, which often outlines a deeper frailty to the suffering of the character. Aside from Hall’s emotional resonance, which has established itself among the best that Hollywood has to offer in films like “Christine” or “The Gift”, it’s her interaction that she shares with her cast that is most informative, sifting through the seven stages of grief, sometimes simultaneously, which in turn emits a glow of empathy for the character that really forces you to invest in her plight. Just as convincing is the physicality afforded to the performance that forces Hall to improvise with a presence that we can’t see, and one that bends and contorts her body in ways that no other film has challenged her previously. It summarizes a turn that once again stirs proof in the pudding for why she’s one of the more underrated and mesmerizing presences going today, solidifying another tour de force performance that extends her already captivating set of cinematic skills.
– Subjective ending. There’s a lot left open to interpretation and deeper meaning when it comes to the resolution and final images of the film that I think will test audiences in ways that will dramatically divide them in half, for their overall grade on the picture. I preface with that statement by now saying that it was an ending that I wholeheartedly loved for the way it conveyed the reality of any psychological conflict, especially one that speaks volumes to the heft in circumstances supplanted by everything Beth has learned and experienced with a man she knew so little of. It doesn’t feel abrupt or intentionally forceful in attaining that groaning reaction that many horror films strangely go for in contemporary times, but does give us a realistic and responsible education in mental health, and one that immerses us in the plight of Beth’s nightmare for better or worse.
– Too many twists. Even though there’s much to appreciate about the benefits of an unpredictable narrative, there’s a convoluted essence to what materialized by film’s end that has us questioning reality for all of the wrong reasons. There’s a first twist that happens about thirty minutes into this movie that I wish the film would’ve persisted further with for the entirety of its narrative, if even just for the way it deconstructed marital bliss in a way that truly showcases the ambiguity in the person you supposedly know best. Unfortunately, a second twist comes along about twenty minutes later that I felt wasn’t as equally fleshed out as the first, and one that directly contradicts everything previously established with the heights of the first. I’m not someone who needs everything explained to me throughout a film, but I felt that there were a bit too many leaps in logic with and glaring plot holes with this arrival, and it made for a second act that I wasn’t as enamored by as a first one that is grounded in the boundaries of reality.
– Secondary characters. Besides the work of Hall, which I cherished immensely in my positives, the work of the supporting cast left plenty more to be desired in both the performances and flailing characterization of their respective characters. While I am a fan of Goldberg and Curtis-Hall in other films they’ve endeared to, their work here felt far too generic and one-dimensional to me, compared to every other horror film that has and ever will be made. Their characters, especially Curtis-Hall’s, are nothing more than plot conveniences to the progression of the narrative, and the more I think about it, both of them could be rewritten as one collective character, instead of two of them repeating the same lines and concerns constantly throughout the halting of this otherwise smooth and productive narrative. It failed to take any of the burden off of Rebecca Hall’s shoulders, and present a compelling support system that served as a driving force to the overwhelming nature of the silence in loneliness that often swallows her character whole.
– Strained pacing. I’m a sucker for a slowburn thriller, and if plodding progression was the biggest problem with the transitioning of the storytelling, then I could easier forgive the problems that come from its inconsistent sequencing. Unfortunately, with the film’s many twists comes many different levels of various speed in the storytelling that has the entirety feeling scatterbrained, lacking the kind of consistency needed for one particular voice of cohesive direction. The first act is the slow burner that was promised, and while the plot is introduced very quick to the dynamic of the protagonist and the audience, it doesn’t evolve into anything compelling until around the half hour mark, at the height of the first and superior twist. The second and third acts are much quicker with their storytelling. In fact, too quick to the point that it often doesn’t have the proper time to take its time with some pivotal matters pertaining to the reality that stems from the various twists. It clocks in at 102 minutes, which seems like enough of a run time for a compelling narrative, but with a marital dispute, a haunted house narrative, a grieving wife, and Beth’s past playing into prominence, it simply is too little for too much, making this an occasionally convoluted clutter that doesn’t always magnetize into one vehicle with four moving wheels.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-