A film that has all the tools, but not the proper foundation.
In David Bruckner’s latest film, The Night House, Rebecca Hall plays Beth, who is mourning the unexpected death of her husband. In the days following his funeral, Beth continues to live, alone, in the lakeside house that Owen built for them. As she struggles to deal with her grief, she starts to suspect a presence in her house at night, whether it be from moving shadows moving or the sound of objects being knocked over. By morning, all traces of this presence have disappeared, leaving Beth to question what, or who, is causing this. Against the advice of her friends, she decides to dig into Owen’s belongings, including his notes, books and blueprints for the house, as well as her own past, to search for any possible answers. What she discovers will lead her down a rabbit hole that will shake her world.
The Night House has the proper ingredients to deliver a great psychological thriller, as well as a great study into how grief can cloud a person’s judgement and vision. This these is communicated well enough in the first half-hour of the film, as we see Beth struggling with her grief and searching for meaning. Rebecca Hall’s committed and relatable performance is what makes these scenes work, and they suggest a heart-wrenching and world-collapsing revelation to follow.
Unfortunately, this film, while competently made, does not provide much to stand out in an already oversaturated sea of psychological thrillers, and feels overly familiar. It is not to say that every film needs to be original, but they at least need something that is engaging, and aside from Hall’s performance, most of what happens in the film are not engaging at all. The conversations she has with her friends do not have much weight to them, and neither do most of the scares. One potentially frightening scare is ruined by some obnoxious sound design, in which the audio volume is turned up so high that it could potentially damage an audience member’s ear drums. When a film must turn up the volume to keep the audience from falling asleep, that should be enough to indicate that maybe this film does not have much else going for it.
The quality of the film sadly takes a sharp negative turn when the truth starts to be revealed. Upon hearing each revelation, audiences will be less shocked and more puzzled, because the answer doesn’t seem likely, even in a film with possible supernatural elements. Even as the movie casually moves to the next set piece, audiences most likely will be continuing to try and put the pieces together in a way that makes proper sense. This is, in a way, how it should be, because it places the audience in Beth’s perspective as they find the answers along with her. The answers given, however, do not seem remotely satisfying to accept, and the film seems dependent on these factors to make the story work, even if they don’t. By the time the film gets to the end and the important twist of the story is revealed, almost all sense of relatability and plausibility goes down the drain.
There is an ongoing trend in mainstream films, in which the twist endings feel overly complicated and farfetched. Films such as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Serenity include such twists, and they not only ruin the entertainment value of the film, but they also alienate the audience. The Night House already had a relatable story with a compelling mystery set up, but the third act practically annihilates the setup for a payoff that is too silly to be taken seriously, and leaves certain plot elements unresolved. While there is nothing wrong with dense storytelling in general, some films can benefit from a simpler story with a simple payoff.
There may be some people out there who might enjoy The Night House, as there are moments in the film that show its potential. Rebecca Hall’s performance, as well as the cinematography, are enough to give the film at least a watch out of curiosity. Unfortunately, this film’s story is not up to par with those elements, and it makes for a rather unsatisfying experience. It just goes to show that movies work the same as houses, in that without a proper foundation to rest on, even the best-looking house can crumble straight to the ground.