Within the horror movie genre sits a gated community of films about haunted houses inhabited by troubled owners — past and present. “The Night House” attempts to rise to the top floor of this group. Unfortunately, the most mysterious element of director David Bruckner’s creation is its title. The meaning isn’t revealed until the final act — unlike everything else.
In 2016’s hidden gem “Christine”, Rebecca Hall transformed into unstable TV news reporter Christine Chubbuck, who killed herself live on-air in 1974. Hall brings some of those same character traits to school teacher Beth. At the start of “The Night House” we learn that Owen, Beth’s husband of 14 years, recently committed suicide. He shot himself while out on the water in a small boat. The couple lived in an isolated, custom built (by Owen) Upstate NY lake house.
Beth is justifiably devastated. Hall, through her erratic dialogue, mannerism twitches and sudden shifts in tone, portrays a woman who is not quite all there… but not “out there” either. She has a few teacher friends, but no one close.
Her downward spiral escalates when she begins hearing strange noises and sees odd figures around the home. She also begins experiencing nightmares that seem so real they actually could be. Oh, and there’s a strange light coming from a house across the lake that she’s never seen before.
Scrolling through photos on Owen’s phone and laptop lights the fuse that sends the grieving widow on a mission to find the truth. But (cue the spooky music) sometimes there are questions that should go unanswered.
“The Night House” has nice, eerie early tone. But, ultimately, Bruckner and writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski don’t show enough faith in the material to let it work on its own. Most avant-garde horror film fans are pretty smart. Here, the secrets and mysteries are unnecessarily revealed way too soon. Too many scenes are devoted to characters explaining to each other what’s going on, what did go on and what will go on. Obligatory “ominous neighbor” (Vondie Curtis-Hall) fills this role, along with a character from Owen’s past whose existence makes absolutely no sense.
This is a modern PTSD psychological drama mixed with classic horror elements. There are definitely a couple jolts in Act I and some creepy moments in Act II. However, in Act III, the script crumbles and a willingness for us to care evaporates with it. Hall gives it her all, but the abundance of intense close-ups are very distracting.
“The Night House” shouldn’t be condemned — it’s well shot and not cursed with every horror movie trope. But good curb appeal doesn’t mean you need to take a look around inside.
LCJ GRADE: C-
Running Time: 107 min.