Normally, elevated horror (or art-house horror) is notable for even leaning into other genres. For example, it wasn’t that something like Hereditary was an amazing drama, it was, at least in part, that it opted to mix drama and horror. Anyone who has hoped for a film to mix the two more effectively is in luck, however, as The Night House has achieved this feat. Not only is it a genuinely affecting experience, handling grief with a deft touch, it’s also a legitimately unsettling fright flick. The mix is hard to pull off, but this movie truly does pull it off.
The Night House is unusual in that it really does throw itself all-in into making the drama work as much as the horror. During its debut at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2020, director David Bruckner perfectly explained the thesis. He said something (credit to colleague Perri Nemiroff for this) to the effect of you’ll face either “the idea that ghosts exist or the realization that they don’t.” Whichever side you fall on, this work has something memorable to say.
Beth (Hall) has just lost her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) to a sudden and unexplained suicide. While her best friend and fellow teacher Claire (Sarah Goldberg) urges her to get out of the lake house Owen built for them, Beth feels a connection there. She’s in the earliest stages of grief, displaying sudden bursts of anger, depression, and even humor, so it’s all still so raw. But, this connection feels real. Is Evan trying to communicate with her?
The more she experiences something she can’t explain, the more she starts to investigate. While she sounds deluded to those around her, Beth has a hunch that Owen is trying to communicate with her. However, a look into his past, coupled with an experience from her childhood, has Beth considering whether this is a good thing or not. As the experiences get more and more unsettling, she realizes that this might be a dangerous situation, though potentially too late in the game…
Rebecca Hall is brilliant here, plain and simple. In fact, this is almost certainly career best for from her, at least so far. She pulls off the scream queen type stuff, to be sure, but it’s in her depiction of grief that she truly shines. Angry, funny, wounded, she shows it all. Hall is always a strong actress, but this is above and beyond. Supporting players like Vondie Curtis-Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jonigkeit, and Stacy Martin (in a small but crucial role) can only stand in her shadow.
Director David Bruckner deserves a lot of credit for letting The Night House be what it is. With a screenplay from Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski that asks some interesting questions, Bruckner actually explores them, without spoon-feeding answers. The film works equally well if you think Beth is experiencing a mental breakdown as it does if you believe she’s being haunted. That’s a credit to Collins and Piotrowski on the script level, for sure, but also to Bruckner’s direction as well. It’s a very interesting choice to have this movie take place immediately following the loss of Beth’s husband, but they all make it work. Bruckner especially deserves kudos for the way he finds such power, both for drama and horror, in small things, including the mere architecture of the house.
The Night House might actually appeal even more to fans of drama than those of horror. That’s how effective the emotions are here. Rebecca Hall has never been better, and that alone should sell you, but the combination of it all makes this one of the year’s better genre offerings. Keep your mind open and you’ll be moved and scared here in equal measure!