Premiering at this year’s Fantasia and Edinburgh film festival, Rebecca Hall returns to the horror genre in this refreshingly emotional psychological thriller from Searchlight pictures.
Directed by David Bruckner, The Night House centres on the recently widowed teacher Beth (Rebecca Hall). Grappling with grief following the shocking and unexpected death of her husband, she’s left reeling and alone in the dream lakeside home they built together – often turning to the bottle for an escape. However, nightmares and strange occurrences begin to take hold at night, with a ghostly presence beckoning Beth to join her. As she discovers more strange possessions hidden in the idyllic house, she begins to dig into her husband’s past, uncovering strange and disturbing secrets linking to his death.
While primarily unfolding as a woman working through her grief, searching for answers following the sudden shock of losing her husband, The Night House evolves into so much more. Left alone in the dream house they built together with only a vague suicide note to decipher, Beth begins to discover more and more clues to the disturbing cause of Owen’s death, leading to a mysterious house that’s the mirror image of their own, disappearing texts from her husband and photos of similar-looking women on his phone. The gripping slow-burn mystery unravels with some unexpected twists, inexplicably linked to a haunting presence which she suspects may be her husband’s spirit. While the trailers paint this as a haunted house horror, it’s much more in the supernatural thriller realm, paired with elements of a psychological horror. This may disappoint some, along with the somewhat ambiguous and open to interpretation ending, but the tense and atmospheric dread sustained throughout the central mystery makes for a captivating ride.
Rebecca Hall continues her fantastic run of horrors following The Gift and The Awakening, with a fascinatingly layered performance as the recently grieving widow. Hall compellingly explores the many states of suffering and loss, searching for answers to why her husband took his life. There’s a sense of being stuck in a limbo non-reality, torn between shock and anger, as Beth feels like she has nothing left to lose. Much like Elisabeth Moss’ fantastic performance in The Invisible Man, Hall brings a real physicality to the role, elevating scenes alongside invisible presences which could, in other hands, become laughable. Beth is a fascinating horror lead who challenges certain gender stereotypes in the genre – facing the tormenting supernatural forces head on rather than running away from it – and the film’s all the better for it.
Bruckner excellently builds tension throughout, with a heightened sense of dread and atmosphere permeating the expansive but desolate house and surrounding woods and lake. The fear of the unknown, paired with a sinister sense of being completely and unexpectedly alone, cleverly plays on our core fears. Composer Ben Lovett’s unsettling score also adds to the creepy atmosphere, with one particular jump scare linked to a particularly loud soundscape. Elisha Christian’s stylish cinematography, paired with Kathrin Eder’s stunning production design, furthers the central mystery with repeating imagery of endless glass windows featuring reflections of mirror images, reversed architectural blueprints, and lucid nightmares featuring doors to dark moments in time.
The Night House is a compelling and atmospheric supernatural thriller which keeps you gripped throughout, particularly due to Rebecca Hall’s commanding performance. Whilst the film primarily uncovers the dark secrets behind Owen’s mysterious suicide, there’s a fascinating exploration of the horror of grief, while battling against the consuming forces of depression, darkness and your own demons. While the house appears to be haunted by a supernatural presence, the narrative can be certainly be interpreted in different ways, leading to the question: is it really the house that’s ‘haunted’ – or is it the person’s psyche?