24th Aug2021

EIFF 2021: ‘The Night House’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin, David Abeles, Christina Jackson, Patrick Klein | Written by Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski | Directed by David Bruckner

A widow uncovers disturbing secrets about her recently deceased husband in this terrific haunted house chiller from director David Bruckner (The Ritual). Smartly written, superbly directed and showcasing a superlative performance from Rebecca Hall, it’s the surprise horror hit of the year.

The Night House centres on Beth (Hall), a high school teacher traumatised by the recent suicide of her beloved husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). Convinced that Owen’s spirit now haunts the remote lakeside home he built for them, Beth becomes increasingly unsettled, resulting in a series of terrifying nightmares. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Beth’s dreams lead her to uncover evidence that Owen may have had a secret double life. So is his ghost trying to tell her something? Or is something more sinister going on?

Rebecca Hall has long been one of Britain’s best actresses and she knocks it out of the park here, delivering a richly-layered performance that encompasses anger, pain, heart-breaking vulnerability and an increasingly precarious mental state, shot through with a sort of caustic cynicism that’s recognisably British, despite her typically flawless American accent. It’s an utterly riveting turn and you daren’t tear your eyes from her at any moment, lest something terrible happen. Frankly, if there were any justice, she’d be up for some serious attention come awards season – it’s just a shame that the Oscars tend to overlook horror performances.

Without giving too much away, the superb script offers a refreshing take on standard haunted house conventions, pulling off a number of excellent twists that even the most genre-savvy horror fan won’t see coming. It also cleverly wrong-foots you on a number of occasions, particularly with regard to its supporting characters.

Emotionally, The Night House is extremely powerful, presenting a deeply moving study of grief and pain in the wake of the suicide of a loved one, accentuated by the accompanying horror, heartbreak and guilt of feeling like you weren’t privy to their inner lives and secrets after all.

Bruckner’s direction is strikingly accomplished throughout, creating a deeply unsettling atmosphere and pulling off a handful of great jump scares into the bargain. The effect is heightened by some extraordinary production design (the house is a veritable work of art in that department), combined with some imaginative and inventive use of special effects, including some of the creepiest shadows of any recent horror movie.

In addition, the film is beautifully edited by David Marks, not least in the way the nightmare sequences seem to flow into reality, suggesting the existence of a mirror world – to that end, there’s one particular moment that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema, and what more can you really ask from a horror movie. On top of that, Bruckner deploys some exceptional sound design work. Indeed, woe betide you if you’re going home to the sort of house that makes strange noises at night.

In short, The Night House is one of the best haunted house horrors in a long, long time. See it now, before someone reveals its secrets.

***** 5/5

The Night House screened as part of this years Edinburgh Film Festival. The film is also on limited release across the UK now.


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