As we’ve learned from countless Lifetime Channel movies, there are few things scarier than learning you don’t know anything about the person you’ve been spending your life with. Beth (Rebecca Hall) finds herself in a similar situation, but her story begins where many Lifetime Movies end. With the death of her husband.
Beth thought she and Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) had a near-perfect marriage. They were still in love, lived in a beautiful house that Owen had built himself, and rarely disagreed. The only thing they didn’t see eye-to-eye on is the afterlife. Beth was convinced there was nothing beyond death, but Owen was adamant there was something more. Beth has valid reasons for being a cynic, but once things start going bump in the night she beings to have doubts. When the strange events around her home reach a level that can’t be easily explained away, she looks for answers. Beth’s deep dive into her husband’s life begins to uncover secrets, but it’s hard to decipher what it all means. Is she uncovering things that could be easily explained if he was still alive? Was he having an affair? Leading a double life? Was everything a lie, or is she just searching for something to fill the void that he left in her life?
One of the things that keep this movie from being another run-of-the-mill psychological thriller is David Bruckner‘s direction. The escalation of paranormal activity is perfectly paced. Clues to the truth are steadily revealed, but never over-explained. The camera places us there with Beth in the large, lonely house. We hold our breath when she does, waiting to see if there is something else sharing the room with us, or if it was just our imagination all along. Occasionally the film dips into a disorientating dreamworld that makes us, and Beth, question what’s real and what is not. It takes talent to navigate the cinematic waters between an effective thriller and a lazy jump-scare-fest.
Equally impressive is the production design. The house is a character to itself, and a few architectural touches near the end are absolutely brilliant. More than once I squinted, trying to determine if I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing or if my eyes were playing tricks on me. Rebecca Hall is the final essential element in this film. While there are a few scenes with friends and her only neighbor, the majority of the movie rests squarely on her shoulders. She also walks a fine line between melodrama and believability. Too often actors slip into farce when presented with paranormal circumstances. But Hall makes us believe. She’s a reasonable woman experiencing things that shake her entire faith system. Not once does her character behave in a way that is unrealistic so it’s easy for us to empathize with her situation.
“The Night House” doesn’t answer all the questions it presents but it gives us enough clues that we don’t feel cheated. The ambiguous areas coupled with the themes explored will leave the audience with plenty to discuss with friends afterward.
The Night House