What happens when we die? Will there be a light at the end of the tunnel beckoning us to crossover into the afterlife? Or, as Beth (Rebecca Hall) believes, there’s nothing. Recently her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) committed suicide leaving behind a cryptic note and now strange things are happening in the home he built that has forced Beth to question her beliefs. David Bruckner’s supernatural thriller blends elements of the beloved Swayze-Moore film “Ghost” with Showtime’s “Dexter” drawing the viewer in as a labyrinth of secrets are exposed, generating authentic chills.
Rebecca Hall is one of the most talented actresses working today. In “The Night House” she returns to familiar territory dealing with deceit and psychosis in the confines of a spacious beautiful home; for reference check out her performance in the 2015 Blumhouse thriller “The Gift.”
Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, the film’s mystery isn’t an easy one to unravel. The story begins just after Owen’s funeral as Beth returns to the stunning lakeside home her husband built right before he took his own life. Her nights are spent drinking brandy and watching wedding day videos while wondering what went wrong. There were no clues that Owen was troubled. Beth was the one who harbored dark thoughts after a near-fatal accident that almost claimed her life as a teenager. In the time that she was technically dead, there was no warm nurturing presence or glowing light at the end of the tunnel, just a dark void. Beth didn’t believe in the afterlife, but she tells her best friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) that Owen did. He was optimistic that there was more to life than this mortal coil.
It’s hard living in a home shared by a lost loved one. When I was a young man, my grandmother passed away during the time that I had been staying with her. After her death, I couldn’t stay there any longer and soon moved out. Now imagine how hard it must be for Beth especially since Owen built the home. Every day she’s forced to view the rowboat he sat in while using a handgun to commit suicide. Her neighbor Mel (played by wonderful character actor Vondie Curtis Hall) offers to tow it away but Beth decides she’ll sell it along with the house.
Tension builds as the story suggests that either Beth is having some strange dreams or there is a presence in the house, as in a ghost. Strange knocking in the middle of the night, a disembodied voice, shadow figures, and electronics with a mind of their own begin to invade Beth’s life. Is the house haunted? Could it be Owen signaling that he’s still around? Or, is Beth losing grip with reality?
Adding another layer to the mystery, Beth discovers a candid photo on Owen’s iPhone of a woman in a bookstore who looks just like her. Claire insists it is her, but Beth points out she doesn’t own a blouse like the one the woman is wearing. Then there’s the discovery of Owen’s books including one on the occult that features a series of mazes, and finally, there’s the sinister clay figurine of a woman bound by 13 spikes driven through the body. For a minute it feels like we’re entering Clive Barker territory.
Hall’s performance and certain tones reminded me of Leigh Whannell’s exceptional 2020 thriller “The Invisible Man” with Elisabeth Moss. Bruckner does an exceptional job of generating chills, including one scene that has Beth roaming the home’s perimeter with a flashlight that scared the you-know-what out of me.
“The Night House” comes recommended thanks to another first-rate performance by Rebecca Hall. At times the storyline is a bit puzzling, but Bruckner manages to keep it from going off the rails while giving us a few visually stunning moments. Once you pull back and process what’s happening on screen, it’s fascinating as the big picture comes together.
Don’t be misled by the supernatural overtones, think of “The Night House” as a psychological thriller blended with an investigative crime mystery. It’s definitely a horror-tinged version of “Ghost” as it skips the passion and romance but leaves the yearning intact.
Opens Friday, August 20 in theaters