Thriller The Night House opens on the night of a funeral and, somehow, only gets darker after that.
The grieving widow we’re introduced to in the opening scene is Beth (Rebecca Hall), a teacher who has no idea why her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) took their boat out from their lake house, which he built, and shot himself with a gun she didn’t even know he owned.
Beth’s attempts to keep it together are disrupted when ghostly disturbances occur. This leaves her in no doubt that Owen’s presence is trying to communicate with her from beyond the grave. Soon, Beth is digging through Owen’s possessions to try and find out more about his past, as well as create a stronger connection with the apparitions. But the mystery she unravels is as shocking as it is disturbing.
There are many reasons why The Night House is such a terrifying psychological horror. First, there’s the pitch-perfect storytelling of its director David Bruckner and writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski.
Rather than forcing scares down our throats, the trio patiently build a chilling ambience that becomes more haunting with each scene. Their precise pacing also allows The Night House to build and never plateau. So much so that, by its rather chaotic but still utterly captivating finale, you’re completely hooked by the madness that unfolds.
But while Bruckner, Collins, and Piotrowski deserve nothing but praise for their work on the film, it really thrives because of a genuinely astounding tour-de-force performance from Hall.
Her portrayal is so emotional, as well as powerful, that you go from feeling her grief and loss over the death of her husband to being spooked and terrified, sometimes in the same scene. Like her collaborators, Hall makes sure that her performance morphs from that of a mourning wife to an obsessed one in an authentic but still mesmeric manner.
Special praise should also be dished out to production designer Kathrin Eder. She perfectly tows the line between making the lake house where Beth spends most of the film appear idyllic when required and claustrophobic when she is overwhelmed. When The Night House becomes more supernatural, Eder’s creativity really shines. In conjunction with Bruckner’s direction, the pair are able to make the seemingly mundane feel like a haunted house mixed with a roller coaster, all while Ben Lovett’s moody score ratchets up the tension further.
Not everything in the film works. There are times when it comes close to being a little too vague and silly. And it will take another viewing to decipher exactly what was explained in its hectic conclusion.
But, when it comes to atmosphere and scares, it’s right up there as one of the most frightening movies of 2021 so far. While, thanks to the work of Hall, it easily possesses one of the best performances, too.
The Night House is in cinemas across the UAE now