MOVIE REVIEW: THE NIGHT HOUSE is a haunting portrayal of grief beneath a supernatural veneer


Director David Bruckner’s latest casts Rebecca Hall as a widow dealing with the sudden loss of her husband amidst a crisis of existential dread in a tour de force performance.

The power of grief can bring many emotions to the surface, from sadness, despair, loneliness, to anger. You can feel abandoned, especially if the grief from the death of the loved one leaves you feeling powerless amidst the feeling that there was nothing you could have done to stop it. Even worse, in the case of someone taking their life, that you didn’t see the signs to even try to help. This feeling of anger and powerlessness in the face of the despair of loneliness in grief is at the heart of the plot behind The Night House, which opens in theaters on August 20th. The Night House stars Rebecca Hall as Beth, a school teacher whose architect husband, Owen, has recently committed suicide, seemingly out of the blue, after 14 years of marriage. Owen has built them a dream house by the lake and had helped keep her dark feelings and related depression over a near-death experience she had at 17 at bay for all of that time. What makes his death all the more tragic is the lack of answers and air of mystery around it. He leaves Beth a note telling her that nothing is after her, but that she is safe now. Rather than giving Beth some closure, all it does is open a pandora’s box of questions for her. This is made all the stranger by her hearing music and receiving a cryptic text from her husband’s phone, which also holds something far more shocking to Beth. On the phone is a picture of a woman that looks just like her, but is clearly not her. All these crumbs lead Beth to start to begin to question what she actually knew of her husband, especially when she discovers his interest in the occult and his building a house with the reverse floor plan as their own on the opposite side of the lake where they live.

Ostensibly, The Night House is a unique take on the haunted house movie genre. The audience is kept guessing as to what is going on for most of the film, with Hall acting as the film’s anchor. She channels some of the best parts of her performance from the 2016 film Christine, which dealt with a driven woman dealing with depression who hides her darkness through self-effacing dark humor before it takes her. Hall’s Beth has friends and a support system, including a caring neighbor played by Vondie Curtis-Hall, who are trying to look out for her and steer her away from dark impulses regarding her seemingly futile quest to understand what happened to her husband to drive him to take his own life. But Beth’s driven nature can allow her to give in to the impulse of letting go; she digs into her husband’s ideation into the occult and finds a bookstore that sold him the books, only to discover that the lookalike of herself that her husband had taken a picture of works there, played in an excellent performance by Stacy Martin. As she begins to lose herself in finding what happened to her husband, she starts to wonder if maybe he is still with her and if the other house she found by the lake might be the key to reconnecting with him. But, in fact, it may be that the house is using her quest to find out what happened to lure her into the same fate as her husband.

In many ways, The Night House is reminiscent of the 2000 Robert Zemeckis film, What Lies Beneath, not just in terms of its setting and plot; but also in being a genre haunting piece squarely aimed at an adult audience. We don’t see films like this hitting theaters much any more, as fare aimed at this audience seems to largely make its way to OTT streaming services. in that regard, The Night House is unique, and the strength of the film’s performances is as well as its sound design and production design really set it apart as something that needs to be seen on the big screen.

But possibly the most intriguing aspect of Bruckner’s film is its exploration of grief and the dark place that a tremendous and unanswerable loss can take us to try and make sense of the unknowable. There’s the very real possibility in the subtext of the film that the supernatural aspects are all in Beth’s head. The film presents her as someone who has suffered from PTSD and depression and that it has taken a toll on her relationship and friendships in her life. We experience Beth bargain with her feelings to try and make peace with the elements of her husband’s life that are unknown to her. But her condition could be creating ideations of things she wishes or wants to believe are true. The fact that that possibility exists in the film is really something and helps form a portrayal of loss using the veneer of a supernatural thriller. It’s to Hall’s credit that she creates this multi-faceted character who seems real in her grief and less the oftentimes cartoonish portrayal of grief seen in films like A Ghost Story.

Ultimately, The Night House is an excellent character study/haunting film that tackles grief and loss as fuel for terror in an effective genre thriller. It’s refreshing to see a character-based mainstream genre film versus a franchise entry and The Night House is a movie that will stay with you long past the credits.