August 24, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by David Bruckner
Culture Representation: Taking place in upstate New York, the horror film “The Night House” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A recent widow is convinced that her house is haunted because her late husband is trying to contact her.
Culture Audience: “The Night House” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching slower-paced horror movies that are more about psychological terror than violent gore.
Moody and atmospheric, sometimes to a fault, “The Night House” still delivers enough mystery and intrigue to make it a noteworthy psychological/supernatural horror movie. Rebecca Hall’s effective performance improves the quality of what could have been a movie that’s too dull and repetitive. It’s not the best ghost story you’ll ever see, but at least it attempts to give more unique visuals and better acting than most horror movies.
There are long stretches of “The Night House” that will test the patience of viewers who might be expecting more action or more jump scares. “The Night House” (directed by David Bruckner and written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski) is essentially a long meditation on grief and finding out secrets of a deceased loved one. It has the added supernatural element of the loved one’s spirit hanging around and trying to make contact.
In an unnamed city in upstate New York, Beth Parchin (played by Hall) is a lonely widow whose architect husband Owen Parchin has recently died in a horrific way: He went in a row boat on the lake outside their house, and he shot himself with a pistol. The beginning of the movie takes place less than a week after Owen’s suicide. Owen (played by Evan Jonigkeit) is shown in flashbacks and in home videos that Beth watches in her grief.
Beth and Owen had been married for almost 15 years. He built their lake house for Beth. The house is isolated in a heavily wooded area, which is a horror movie cliché that works pretty well in this movie. Beth is unsure if she wants to sell the house, now that Owen is gone, and the house is filled with painful memories. Beth is a high school teacher, whose closest friend is another teacher at the school named Claire (played by Sarah Goldberg), who becomes increasingly concerned about Beth’s mental health as time goes on.
Beth confides in Claire that she has no idea why Owen wanted kill himself, because he was the more upbeat and positive person in their marriage. Claire says she’s the one in their marriage who’s had a history of depression and negative thoughts. It’s also revealed in the movie that Claire had a near-death experience at 17 years old, so she has very a strong opinion about what might happen to human souls after death.
Almost immediately after this movie begins, Beth has nightmares or visions that Owen is trying to contact her. Get used to multiple scenes of Beth hearing Owen’s voice in a room or getting text messages from Owen—only to have her wake up because it was just a dream. Or was it? It gets to the point where Beth starts to question her own sanity.
Things get more interesting when Beth goes through Owen’s phone and laptop computer and finds photos of women she does not recognize. Was Owen cheating on her? Beth is determined to find out. And she discovers things about Owen that take her down a very dark path.
Viewers of “The Night House” have to get used to many scenes of Beth having nightmares. These scenes are genuinely spooky but can get a little tiresome because the point is made over and over that Beth is being haunted by what she’s sure is the ghost of her husband. It isn’t until she tries to find out his secrets that the pace and intrigue start to pick up.
The parts of “The Night House” that seem the most awkward are scenes showing Beth at work less than a week after Owen’s suicide. These scenes don’t take up too much of the movie (less than 10 minutes), but they beg the question: Why is Beth back at work so soon after her husband’s suicide, when she’s obviously emotionally fragile? The movie never answers that question. Because people grieve in different ways, viewers will have to assume that Beth is the one who insisted on going back to work.
Beth also has a concerned neighbor named Mel (played by Vondie Curtis Hall), who checks up on Beth occasionally. During her sleuthing, Beth discovers Owen’s architect sketchbook, which has some major clues about what’s going on. She also finds a voodoo doll, as well as an occult book that leads her to a bookstore. She meets a bookstore employee named Madelyn (played by Stacy Martin), who discloses some information that leads Beth closer to solving the mystery.
Rebecca Hall—who’s in all of the movie’s scenes—gives a fairly riveting performance as a grieving widow who misses her husband so much that she’s willing to go down a proverbial rabbit hole to find out secrets that might end up destroying her happy memories of him. And if Beth does find out some disturbing truths about Owen, will it cut short her growing obsession to communicate with him and possibly summon him back, just so he can be with her again in some way? Those questions are answered in the movie, but “The Night House” will leave viewers guessing over what the long-term repercussions will be.
Searchlight Pictures released “The Night House” in U.S. cinemas on August 20, 2021.