I marked David Bruckner as a talent to watch ever since I watched his “Amateur Night” segment in the analogue anthology movie V/H/S and my opinion only strengthened after watching guilt soaked monster movie The Ritual. On the horizon lies a possible remake of Hellraiser, but before Pinhead 2.0 gets to start flinging his hooks about, we have to take a trip with him to The Night House, a spooky thriller that tackles the issues of grief, distrust and confusion in the wake of a loved ones suicide.
While sudden death, malevolent abodes and the very real possibility of a being from the other side living rent free either in your house or your head all sound like standard fare for a horror movie, but The Night House proves to be a tense ride that has some interesting things to say about the grieving process.
Beth is having a tough time processing things at the moment. You can hardly blame her considering she’s just buried her husband after he suddenly decided to blow his brains out with a gun she didn’t even know he owned after leaving a note that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Getting sideswiped so epically by the man she thought she knew has understandably flipped her world upside down but she doggedly returns to her teaching job in order to force thing to start making sense again.
As her friends try to offer weak platitudes in the face of her growing bitterness, Beth stumbles on a few unsettling things with the first being the discovery of photographs taken on his phone of other women who look suspiciously like her. Soon other disturbing facts come to light such as the plans for a inverted version of the house that sits directly across the lake from the one he made for them. Unsurprisingly, this leads Beth to think Owen may have had a sinister secret life, one that very well may have chilling ramifications about the man she thought she knew. However, far more alarming is the fact that Beth is becoming increasingly convinced that there is some sort of supernatural entity lurking in her house and it’s getting increasingly more familiar. Be it slamming on the stereo at full volume during the wee hours of the morning or leaving bloody footprints all over their dock, is Beth’s grief mixed with Owen’s apparent infidelity warping her grip on reality or is there actually a ghost trying to give her a message from beyond who may actually be her dead husband?
As her nightmares grow ever more bizarre and the facts she’s unearthing about Owen look ever more damning, reality starts to have all the tangibility of cigar smoke as Beth scrambles ever deeper down the rabbit hole that’s either an encounter of the Spooky kind or a full blown psychotic break with no real best case scenario.
Despite featuring plenty of creepy shenanigans and plenty of ADR adjusted loud noises to fill its jump scare quota what drew me so much to The Night House is it’s genuinely intriguing approach to the grieving process which goes against the usual portrayal you get in films. While many flicks have their mourning protagonist start of as delicate as sugar glass only for them to gain a renewed inner strength, Bruckner opts to infuse Beth with a massive amount of angry bitterness that stays with her for virtually the entire movie. Whether tossing a meal made by a well wisher into the bin with callous disinterest to verbally taking apart a Karen who dares question her on the grade Beth gave her son, the movie bravely doesn’t hold back on lumbering its lead with an acidic outlook on life. It’s an incredibly tough thing for movie to pull off, especially if you need an audience to have empathy for your main character’s plight and the fact that she isn’t utterly dislikable as she grows increasingly (but understandably) impatient with her well meaning friends and it’s a testament to the sardonic skills of Rebecca Hall that you feel for Beth for the entire duration of the movie.
It’s Hall’s performance that provides an iron back bone that the rest of the movie uses to stand with as the film seems to want to accomplish multiple things that don’t usually sit well together in the same story such as the plot being quite possibly the most ambiguous of it’s kind I’ve seen in quite some time. In fact, it’s so ambiguous you may find yourself disagreeing with people who’ve also seen it as to what exactly has transpired as it takes the “is she crazy or is she haunted” path right up to and beyond the end credits. Those of you who prefer a more spelled out ending may well leave feeling fairly frustrated but if you’re lucky, we’ll all have a whip round as see if we can’t afford to buy you an imagination for Christmas… However, my cynical outburst aside, a more concrete approach may have been a better way to go as the continuous uncertainty as to what is actually real ends up slightly diluting what the movie is actually about. Is Beth a tragic character, suffering for her grief as her grasp on reality becomes as slippery as a fish on an ice rink or is she actually a heroic victim as she struggles to find answers and solace in the face of the supernatural – to suggest she’s both or neither by the film’s end may result in some great, after-movie conversations but I feel either way the audience deserves at least a tiny bit of tangibility to cling to…
Bruckner gives the movie a nice moody feel and treats all the supernatural scenes with a subtle hand, although I have to admit I was expecting the film to lead up to a more horrifying denouement – a genuinely disturbing statue hints at possible Hellraiser-y style happenings – and I was left slightly disappointed at what happened instead (although that’s probably more my fault than the filmmakers).
It’s also a somewhat of a shame Bruckner decides to fall back on basic jump scares instead of relying on the mounting tension it succeeds on building but its dream sequences and rather novel portrayal of having an otherworldly force being realized as human-shaped gaps in the house’s decor that could be also explained away by simply being an optical illusion spotted in the periphery of your vision.
An above average creeper that’s vastly elevated by the impressive performance of its lead, The Night House maybe could have used a bit more complexity in it’s floor design to make it stand out more from the rest of the neighbourhood, but still is an engrossing experience nevertheless.