Released: 19th August
Seen: 18th November
Haunting movies are always a tough one to pull off. They tend to be a little slower to start with and at times just get a little silly because of what’s needed visually to impart the idea of a ghost moving things around. It takes something pretty special to make this genre rise above just a bunch of loud noises and slamming doors… enter The Night House, something special that rises above loud noises and slamming doors.
The Night House follows recent widow Beth (Rebecca Hall), a school teacher whose husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) recently shot himself while in a boat in the lake behind their property. Naturally, this has been making Beth a bit on edge but she soon starts spiralling even more as she deals with the aftermath by cleaning up his belongings. Upon finding a strange suicide note and photos of women who look just like her in Owen’s phone, Beth starts wondering just what her husband was hiding from her that may have driven him to suicide. What follows is a dark trip into the psyche of a woman grieving, a series of strange nightmares that seem too real to just be in her head and a malevolent spirit who clearly wants one thing… Beth.
If you want a masterclass in how to properly handle tension building, The Night House is the entire lesson plan. The film is almost scientific in how it perfectly ramps up the tension through nothing more than the central performance and the visuals surrounding it before letting just enough tension out that the audience can catch their breath before going again. It does this again and again and each time it works spectacularly. By the time we get to the grand finale, it’s as intense as can be and you will be holding your breath just waiting for the resolution. It’s stunning.
Speaking of stunning, god damn is The Night House a visual treat. Playing with light and colour like nobody’s business, every shot is flawlessly framed and when it comes time for something strange to happen it just looks incredible. There’s this trick the film does repeatedly where the figure of a man will appear in negative space and it works every time, it’s so subtle that I’m certain there were times it happened and it just wasn’t noticed but once you spot it you will be scanning the frame to see where it’s happening. Its subtlety sells it, making you feel like you need to be leaning in to catch what it’s doing… at which point it will throw something huge and shocking out at you and throw you back in your chair because this movie knows how to play its audience.
Aiding in getting hold of the audience is the incredibly compelling performance by Rebecca Hall, who is basically putting on a one-woman show for most of The Night House’s runtime and it is incredible. You watch this woman go through every stage of grief and she turns every second of it into one of the most engaging performances of the year. It’s impossible not to be completely awestruck by what she’s pulling off here within seconds of the film starting, it’s so raw and beautiful that you can’t really look away from it.
There is an urge here to compare this film to another genuinely great horror film of recent years, that being The Invisible Man. Both share a stunning amount in common from both being about women dealing with who their partners truly were after death, to seeing things that no one else can see to the building paranoia that threatens to send the main characters off the deep end. The Night House is definitely the movie that would pop up after Invisible Man under the heading “If you liked this movie, here are some others you might like”, it’s basically a less intense version of Invisible Man so if you enjoyed that movie then The Night House is a good follow up.
The one thing The Night House does have a slight problem with is that, even with the tension building, it feels so much longer than it actually is. There were a few moments while watching it that it feels like it should be ending but it’s only at the 45-minute mark. It’s a slow burner that has a ton of tension to make that burn worthwhile but for some, that might be a bit of a barrier. Stick with it, the film will absolutely justify that pacing by the end.
The Night House is a genuinely gorgeous, gripping and grand experience that shows off the incredible talent of its lead while also showing off just how good its creative team is. This is a fascinating film about loss and secrets that handles its subject with incredible care. The knowledge that the team behind this is also handling the upcoming Hellraiser remake is the best information you could get because if this is the standard we can expect, god damn I’m excited for what’s in store. An absolute easy recommendation.