A film about picking up the pieces after your life has been completely shattered, The Night House is horror that cuts to the very soul through a devastating performance by Rebecca Hall. Hall plays Beth, a widow whose husband unexpectedly committed suicide. Now alone in her home, she only departs to go to work as a teacher where she faces clumsy support from her colleague Claire (Sarah Goldberg) and disrespect from an entitled parent. Her neighbor Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) offers support though seems to be keeping something from her. It creates a painful state where Beth has to carry the intense weight of her grief alone.
After initially trying to find some sense of normalcy and stability in the routine of her job, Beth begins to sense a strange presence in her home. Music will come on suddenly in the middle of the night and creaking sounds will echo through the empty house as a reminder that she is now alone. Most alarmingly, Beth begins to hear a voice that seems to speak to her. It all begins to slowly wear her down and consume her every conscious, as well as unconscious, thought. Even as she is considering moving, something is drawing her to the area surrounding the house.
Beth's primary coping mechanism is to drink, frequently casting doubt on whether what she is seeing is really there, a state that Hall embodies with complete confidence. For an actor to play drunk, as this character often is, requires a balance of being both unrestrained and unfiltered while still capturing an emotional vulnerability where she frequently spirals into darkness. It feels so authentic, with every subtle choice from Hall drawing you further into the pits of her despair. There is the sense that she may never be free of what is haunting her and that is crushing.
Director David Bruckner is well suited to this film. Having directed 2017's The Ritual, he is no stranger to stories centered around grief and loss against the backdrop of a horror film. Here, his strength in creating an evocative atmosphere and a creeping dread is bolstered by a more sturdy story. Bruckner instills the film's humble setting with increasingly unsettling sounds and visuals, crafting a mesmerizing feel that is impossible to shake as it all begins to unravel. In particular, Ben Lovett's score both compliments and expertly builds the tension the film is creating.
When it comes to the details of the story itself, that is best experienced with as little knowledge as possible. Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, who previously collaborated on the unnerving Super Dark Times from 2017, do an excellent job constructing the story around paranoia that is exacerbated by Beth's suffocating sense of isolation. As she begins to question her reality and the life she thought she had with her husband, the film completely draws you in.
There are some moments toward the end that do unfortunately get a little bit lost in their own chaos. As the majority of the film was handled with a subtle touch, the finale can feel a bit jarring. It is akin in many ways to last year's outstanding film Relic, which similarly centered on real-life loss through the lens of horror. However, The Night House lacks the same sense of cohesion in a conclusion that struggles to seamlessly come together.
This is still a minor gripe and one that can't overwhelm all that is truly enrapturing. As Beth follows the breadcrumbs set forth for her, there are genuine stakes about whether they will lead to her salvation or her annihilation. She desperately wants to reconnect with her husband and return to a life where she wasn't alone. It is that desperation that Hall expertly excavates in her performance.
The pain of looking to a bleak future, after losing everything, is overwhelming and deeply affecting. The dark world Beth discovers both moves and frightens in equal measure, creating a film that is as much about reckoning with its exterior horrors as its interior ones. The Night House isn't afraid to grapple with those deeper themes, even as they are existentially terrifying, ensuring the experience is a profoundly poetic reflection on loss. ♦THE NIGHT HOUSE
Directed by David Bruckner
Starring Rebecca Hall, Sarah
Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall