David Bruckner’s The Night House is a fascinating place to live… at least for awhile. Its sturdy foundation is a hauntingly grief-stricken central performance from Rebecca Hall’s Beth. There are desirable features such as loud audio jump scares that genuinely do surprise. Its mystery focused on an ambiguous suicide note leaves us guessing for some time. For all we are given to buy into and do, the screenplay from Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski ultimately struggles to close the deal. And that’s where the remorse might settle in.
High school teacher Beth is reeling from the out of nowhere self-inflicted demise of husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). Her best friend (Sarah Goldberg) and kindly widowed neighbor (Vondie Curtis-Hall) try to say the right things, but Owen’s final correspondence leaves her baffled and wanting answers. Such acknowledgements come in ways familiar for the horror genre. Her nights are filled with ominous noises and creaks that suggest a presence at the lakeside abode that Owen built.
Beth’s digging into her late partner’s past (usually via his electronic devices) discloses a secret life that involves more architectural designs and a penchant for women that closely resemble her. So what does it all mean? Those reveals are where the script leaves a bit of its own ambiguity. When it becomes clearer on closer examination, the reveals are a letdown.
The Night House is certainly carried by Hall’s work. She isn’t your typical helpless heroine living in a place with a demonic mind of its own. We learn Beth has already had a brush with death years before and that informs her behavior. A stereo coming on full blast at night by itself tends to not scare her as much as the audience. The generous imbibing of brandy also assists with her liquid courage.
I wish the screenplay solved a way to deserve her superb performance. It mostly does for about two-thirds of the showing and, for that, the filmmakers deserve credit. The final act? It’s a bit of a fixer upper.
**1/2 (out of four)