The Night House (2020)

AUGUST 20, 2021

GENRE: GHOST
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

There is a moment in The Night House that shook me to my core, but it wasn't a particularly scary moment. No, it's a bit where Beth (Rebecca Hall) is having a dream that her dead husband is texting her, and when she looks at the message, we can see that there are other, older ones (from when he was presumably alive), unlike most movies where a new text is the only time this person apparently ever texted their loved one. Then, they double down on the surprises - when she wakes up and checks to see if the text was real, her phone is plugged in! Movie characters are always just leaving their phone right there next to them, unplugged, because these people never have to worry about a dead battery I guess. But Beth does!

Granted this is just me clapping for a weird pet peeve, but it does tie into one of the things that makes the movie work as well as it does: it feels very natural and our protagonist is relatable, allowing the ghost-y stuff to really get under your skin. Having just lost her husband to suicide, Beth's grief is manifesting in many ways: she drinks, she watches their home videos, she packs up his toiletries to toss them, and she ultimately starts going through his personal things trying to find answers for why he suddenly took his own life. And (thanks in part to Hall's terrific performance) we understand perfectly that, even though we never met her prior to this tragedy, this is all unusual behavior for her, and also that he was her "rock" despite never having seen them together. It's a balancing act that the script and director David Bruckner (and again, Hall) walk expertly.

It's also surprisingly funny at times. There's another great scene where Beth (a teacher) is confronted by a parent of a student who got a C in class, and while she's trying to be delicate at first and chalk her recent absence (in the mom's eyes, the reason for the lower grade) to "a personal matter", the mom keeps harping on it, so Beth just trys the blunt approach and tells her, mid-sentence, that he blew his brains out. Dark as it is, the woman's stunned reaction is a hilarious bit of comedy, and there are other moments like it throughout the film, even as Beth's grief enters the anger portion and she confronts one of the women she finds photos of in her husband's phone.

I can't get too much into that because spoilers, but I will say that part of the mystery involves these women, all of whom somewhat resemble Beth and may be connected to a mirrored version of their house that he has built across the lake from theirs. His suicide note was a cryptic message about Beth being safe now, and we learn that she once died for a few minutes after an accident before being revived, and if you think all of these things might be connected, you'd be correct, though exactly what is something Bruckner and co. thankfully do not feel the need to spell out with dialogue, trusting the audience to piece it together on their own. It's not a puzzler by any means; it was just refreshingly free of hand holding. With Hall being in just about every frame of the film (I think the final scene is the only time we ever see anything from anyone else's perspective) and often alone except for the possible ghost, it would mean a lot of talking to herself to convey exposition in a more traditional (read: dumbed down) manner, and I was pleasantly surprised to see they trusted their audience enough to not do that.

It's also light on traditional scares, something that will likely annoy any younger audiences who were hooked in by the trailer (which shows almost all of them), as they probably won't be able to connect to the drama either (though maybe they will in Covid times? Possible they've lost someone close recently). At times you feel the creative team would rather just focus on Hall working through it than deal with the haunting element, which is fine by me since I don't really get scared anyway, but I feel I should say it as a bit of a warning for anyone who might be heading out for some good ol fashioned "let's go scream together with a big crowd" horror movie viewing. Not only will the crowd be small and muted, but blah blah blah Delta, etc (you've heard it all by now), so if you want to wait for home, I would only sigh with how it relates to the theatrical success of a solid, ORIGINAL horror movie. As a human, and movie fan in general, I'll admit this one might actually work better at home anyway, even without the health risks being a factor.

I know this is a relatively short review for me, but that's part of what makes the movie work: its simplicity. Yes, Beth finds out things about her husband that ultimately has her looking at weird old books and even taking a mini road trip for info, but it never gets bogged down in this stuff; her working through it is the driving force, and unless you want multiple paragraphs about praising Hall's performance, there isn't much to write about without diluting the experience (I can also vouch for the score by Lovett, quite good!). If you were a fan of (HMAD book recommendations*!) Absentia, The Eclipse and/or The Presence, I think you'll enjoy this, and if you found them "boring" or whatever, then there isn't going to be much here to change your mind, though I still encourage you to see for yourself when you feel comfortable doing so. At the very least, it might give jealous spouses a reason to not be so quick to fear the worst when they see their partner looking at other men/women!

What say you?

*I was gonna just write a note here but made it a whole ass post instead of burying it in a review for a movie apparently few have seen. Click here for something cool re: my book!

3 comments:

  1. You had me at "if you were a fan of Absentia"

    That's one of my all time favorite movies, and I keep expecting it to turn into a beloved cult classic now that Mike Flanagan has hit it big. But it keeps on not happening, much to my chagrin. Anyway, if it's a similar vibe to Absentia, I'll definitely check it out.

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  2. Really loved it and Hall is amazing. Great atmosphere and a very tense and fun ride. It reminded me a little but of Hereditary. The lead's performance is really Oscar-Worthy - but the ending feels like it subtracts. My scary movie pal at dinner afterwards reflected "lets count the ways all of the implications of that ending are awful".

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  3. Great movie and a great performance from Hall

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