As I’ve stated elsewhere, I generally try to avoid reviewing new or recently released movies, but every now and then an exception comes along. Last night was one of those exceptions. I saw a trailer for The Night House when I was hangin’ out with my buddy Jorge. We were editing the proof of our upcoming book, Candy & Rigor Mortis II: Post Mortem available October 23 from me or on Amazon.
I’m neither very good at nor subtle about self-promotion.
Anyway, we both said, “I gotta see that!” And it just so happens to be showing at Naro Cinema, literally a 20-second walk from my apartment. The next nearest place to see it is an AMC joint which is about 40 minutes away and costs more. Plus Naro is independent.
Lemme start by saying I had fucked up dreams last night. I don’t recall many details, but they were those weird, “not quite nightmares but not quite not either” kindsa dreams. I’m not saying this is directly tied to seeing The Night House, but it’s an awfully coincidental doe-inky-kwink (sorry, I went all Ziva/NCIS in my head for a second).
So yeah, this movie is unnerving—not on a Requiem For A Dream level, but certainly unnerving nonetheless. The story revolves around Beth played by Rebecca Hall (she’s been around a minute in films like Vicky Christina Barcelon, Frost/Nixon, Iron Man 3, Christine, etcetera). Beth is a teacher whose husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) committed suicide mere days earlier.
Incidentally there’s a parent/teacher conference over a grade dispute that will be the envy of any teacher who’s ever had to explain themselves to a student and/or parent. Anyway, Owen was an architect and built their home. Turns out that ain’t all.
There are, naturally, secrets that have to be brought to light. There is, of course, a plot twist, but it serves as character development more that a Shyamalan-esque pulling of the rug out from under you. I really don’t wanna go any further because I don’t wanna ruin a single second of The Night House’s tension.
Because tense it is, starting from Beth’s first night home after the funeral and building methodically from there. There’s quite a bit going on here in numerous layers. There is definitely a presence (you can suss that out from the trailer), but who/what it is and what it wants, that’s the question.
Beth herself is not particularly likeable, but why should she be? Her husband blew his brains out. What’s interesting is that you don’t feel bad for her as much as frightened with and for her. As she uncovers more secrets, the closer she is drawn to the presence in her house.
There are some great jumpscares here as well, many of which use sound as much as if not more than visuals. There’s an almost constant throb of gloomy, brooding, doom-filled bass notes off set by the sudden powering on of the stereo along with some well-placed, screechy, high-frequency chord stings. There’s also a well-constructed (though largely unexplained) cliff scene that may catch one off guard.
Something else that stood out was the lack of special effects, especially CGI. I’m assuming there is some in terms of representing the presence Beth is dealing with, but it’s effective and not overused.
Ultimately Beth has to come to terms with grief, loss, and secrets, and doing so involves what is essentially a trip to the underworld. How do we know it’s the underworld? There’s a boat that takes her from her waterfront home to the other side of the lake. With the exception of maybe your average dippy rom-com, a boat ride is rarely just a boat ride. So, yeah, symbolism. You’ve been warned.
Checking in with some critics, Deadline Hollywood’s Todd McCarthy seems unsatisfied with the resolution, saying it comes off as “contrived.” Similarly, David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter thinks the writing lacks clarity and falls into “chaotic mayhem.” I mean, color me naive, but isn’t chaotic mayhem kinda part and parcel of dealing with supernatural forces? Didn’t these guys see Poltergeist?
At its core, The Night House is a haunted house story with shades of Vertigo and in a weird, minor way also Primer and Timecrimes. I don’t mean there’s time travel involved, but…Let’s just leave it at that and see if anyone agrees with me. There are also some cool variations on this haunted house theme—haunted by whom/what, and why, and how, that’s what Beth has to unravel.
Director David Bruckner is no stranger to these kinds of things either what with The Ritual and segments of V/H/S (“Amateur Night”) and Southbound (“The Accident”) under his belt. The guy can tell a creepy story.
BODIES- 1+ (I can’t be more specific without giving something away)
Stream/Rent- no release date yet