[Sundance Review] THE NIGHT HOUSE
Rebecca Hall in THE NIGHT HOUSE

To start with, everyone involved with the making of THE NIGHT HOUSE deserves credit for tackling such unpopular and disquieting subjects, namely death and suicide and its effects on the people left behind. Grief is a tough thing to make a movie about because it is a topic that everyone takes great pains to avoid as if you might be able to bring tragedy on yourself just by thinking of it. Too often, family and friends are left in a weird sort of limbo where people are unsure of what to say and do to comfort them. They may get treated like overly fragile glass or people may avoid them. They may get only the rote responses that you are taught to give by society. Not only are they dealing with loss, but they are also dealing with a world of people who have no idea what to do. They have to deal with their sense of loss and isolation from everyone else. The world becomes a hollow, echoing room, much like Beth and Owen’s house on the lake. 

David Bruckner has attempted to give grief, in all its unpleasant forms, a shape and allow you to experience the horror that comes with being the bereaved. His previous film, The Ritual, dealt with death and the supernatural and while THE NIGHT HOUSE also has some supernatural elements, it’s a much different story. Rebecca Hall plays Beth, the wife who suddenly has to deal with life alone in a large house on the lake. Her best friend, Claire – played by Sarah Goldberg, is a true friend who tries her best to help Beth even though it’s not easy because of Beth increasingly volatile actions. Vondie Curtis-Hall is her neighbor across the lake and friend, Mel, who is also concerned by Beth’s behavior, Evan Jonigkeit plays Owen, her late husband, whose suicide sets everything in motion. Stacy Martin plays a young book store employee with a startling resemblance to Beth herself.

There are many ways to react to a loved one’s death and Beth has gone for one of the most powerful. She is angry, almost enraged and bewildered by what her husband has done. At first, she pushes all reminders away, but then as the nights grow longer and mysterious and frightening things start happening, she starts to dig through Owen’s belongings to try and find some reason for what has happened. Rebecca Hall really digs into the role wholeheartedly. She’s angry and she doesn’t care who she hurts, probably because the pain she feels is almost unbearable, but the social stigmas really don’t apply to her anymore. She’s outside of society and alone in a way that makes Beth a little dangerous, although the danger is mostly to herself. Her relationships with her friends, especially Claire, are thorny but you can see the genuine caring that exists between them and the real concern that Claire has for Beth. It’s great work as actors and I have to also laud Evan Jonigkeit for his work as a man who is no longer there.  Some of his best work is in a photograph, which has a high level of difficulty. In the photograph, you see a man about whom something is just not right. It’s all in his eyes and it is chilling. It is also a pleasure to see Vondie Curtis-Hall and his warm and sympathetic face in this film. He also does brief, but wonderful work. 

Grief is hard for people who have not experienced it to grasp, but THE NIGHT HOUSE and director David Bruckner, writers Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski, and the cast have done an excellent job at making the specter of grief real for those watching the film. Grief comes in waves and can really mess with your mind and the film takes you by the hand and guides you through that shock and horror and then grabs your hand and drags you through the woods to an empty house that may be populated by your worst fears. What is real and what is not? What is the nature of love and reality? What do we hide from those that we love? And what if that person we love and depend on or our friend is a monster that we’ve never noticed? Can you really know another person? What is out there?

Those are the big questions that THE NIGHT HOUSE has for you.

I also have to give a shout out to the terrifying sound design of the film. Usually, you expect jump scares to be something physical, but believe you me, they can definitely be aural as well. 

THE NIGHT HOUSE is a horror film of the mind and the heart and a very successful one at that. It holds no easy answers and is very daring for taking that lonely route.

Dolores Quintana
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