The Night House

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Night House
"Ambiguity lurks in the shadows and there's a doubling up and a doubling down." | Photo: Elisha Christian

The complex and tumbling emotions of grief are given a haunted house workout in David Bruckner's moody chiller that sees the life of teacher Beth (Rebecca Hall) begin to fray at the edges after her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) commits suicide.

The house they lived in by the lakeside lets the light stream in through the day but after dark different reflections roam the rooms, not all of which are necessarily natural. Beth sees bloody footprints near the boat Owen took out on that fateful day, the stereo suddenly sparking up with Richard Thompson's The Calvary Cross in the middle of the night. A photo on his phone makes her think he kept secrets but is all this really happening or does it stem from a mixture of brandy and grief? Ambiguity lurks in the shadows and there's a doubling up and a doubling down.

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At 5ft 8in, Hall has a real physical presence in the spaces she occupies, something that somehow makes it worse when we sense she's in peril. When she receives text messages in the middle of the night - in block capitals because, well, that's always more ominous, right? - we see her emotions flicker like lights on a faulty circuit board between hope, longing and fear. She's arguably even better in the daytime scenes - something the film could perhaps have used more of to underpin its supernatural stylings - the grin she suddenly turns on work colleagues as her emotions shift gear, just a little too wide, flirting on the edge of mania. Sarah Goldberg also serves up a performance that puts mixed feelings through their paces, as Beth's concerned friend Claire.

Bruckner wants us to sail out into Beth's emotions, less concerned with whether those secrets she is discovering really hang together in the great big scheme of things than whether we feel as though we're slipping with her into the strange and the unreal. The score from Ben Lovett, which has a sort of buzzing in the background from the start, like a headache you can't shift, helps with that as does the sound design in general. Cinematographer Elisha Christian, meanwhile, does things with mirrors and virtually any other reflective surface he can get his lens on to keep us on edge. Some of the later scenes recall The Invisible Man's most recent film incarnation, although Bruckner and Christian don't have quite the same command of negative space or special effects. In the end, it's Hall that sells this haunting, spiking us through with Beth's emotions from first to last.

Reviewed on: 20 Aug 2021
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The Night House packshot
A widow struggles with grief as strange things happen in her lake house at night.
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