Rebecca Hall doesn’t get nearly enough recognition as an actress. Granted, Hall has received her fair share of love from critics. When people talk about the most consistently strong actresses of the past decade or so, though, Hall doesn’t come up as much as she should. The fact that she hasn’t even garnered a Golden Globe nomination as of writing is a head-scratcher. The Night House is another testament to Hall’s strengths. While the film is chillingly crafted by director David Bruckner, its success lies on Hall’s shoulders. She makes the film, although Hall thankfully isn’t the only element worth praising.
Hall is captivating as Beth, a school teacher who goes into a downhill spiral after her husband Owen unexpectedly commits suicide. Owen is played by Evan Jonigkeit, who I swear is Bo Burnham’s doppelganger. While their marriage wasn’t perfect, Beth never suspected that Owen would take his life. If anything, Beth thought she was the depressed one. As Beth begins to question how well she knew her husband, she also questions her sanity. In addition to receiving mysterious texts from Owen’s phone, Beth senses a ghostly presence that might be her husband. The more she learns about his life, Owen’s apparent return starts to feel less like Ghost and more like The Invisible Man.
This isn’t to say that The Night House is a boogeyman story. The film’s true monsters are grief and insecurity, which eat away at Beth until she’s practically a shell. In that sense, The Night House shares the most in common with The Babadook and Hereditary. It doesn’t quite stick the landing as those two modern horror masterstrokes did. However, all three excel in constructing haunting environments and blending reality with madness. There’s a particularly impressive shot that transitions from a frightened Beth opening a door to her awakening on the couch. You don’t know where the dream begins and ends, assuming she was dreaming at all.
Bruckner assembles a solid supporting cast featuring Sarah Goldberg as Beth’s concerned sister and Vondie Curtis-Hall as a friendly neighbor. Hall’s true co-star, though, is Kathrin Eder’s production design. The titular night house possesses a life of its own, at times literally. The film has at least two effective jump scares where the house merges with the silhouette of a man. One scene had me rewinding a few times to make sure that my eyes weren’t playing tricks. Elisha Christian’s cinematography also naturally plays an essential role in molding the house into a lingering presence.
The Night House comes close to achieving greatness, although the final act is a mixed bag. Hall delivers a powerhouse performance, and Beth’s final destination is fitting. The explanation for everything, however, comes off as a bit muddled. The screenplay by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski needed one more rewrite to crack the ending, which has some good ideas that aren’t fully explored. Even with these missed opportunities, The Night House ultimately delivers on its potential. It’s a classic ghost story with a timely theme at its core.