A lot of things are scary, but nothing’s quite as scary as recent grief. That’s the takeaway from The Night House, a new psychological horror film that mostly delivers, even though it’s somewhat derivative.
A Sundance debut from all the way back at the pre-pandemic 2020 festival, The Night House was written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski and directed by David Bruckner (co-director of both The Signal and V/H/S, and who made The Ritual solo.)
It stars Rebecca Hall as Beth, a recently widowed woman who lives alone in a lakeside home that appears to be haunted, possibly by her recently deceased husband (Evan Jonigkeit), who committed an inexplicable suicide. The supporting cast includes both a neighbor (veteran character actor Vondie Curtis-Hall) and her best friend (Sarah Goldberg, from Barry.)
We’re meant to wonder if she’s actually being haunted, or merely suffering from bad dreams, or perhaps depression or alcoholism. She also discovers secrets about her husband’s life, especially his habit of spending time with other women who bear a strong resemblance to Beth herself. It’s all very creepy and unsettling, including both jump scares and more psychologically content stuff. However, the basic setup is stuff that we’ve seen before, and its ending is less than satisfying.
The Night House is similar to many recent films about houses or other places that are haunted, including 2020’s The Rental, although the movie it most recalled to me was Personal Shopper, Olivier Assayas’ 2016 ghost thriller starring Kristen Stewart. That movie, much like The Night House, featured a female protagonist haunted by a recently deceased male relative, and it also had a chilling scene involving text messages.
There are also some echoes of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, minus the part about the guy in the sheet. And like Lowery’s film with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, 95 percent of the movie takes place within the house, one of the cooler movie houses in recent memory.
Rebecca Hall has been outstanding in a wide variety of different movies over the years, from a sexy romp like Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona to art house stuff like Christine and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, to blockbusters like Iron Man 3 and Godzilla vs. Kong (the latter isn’t one of her career highlights, although no one remembers anything about that movie except for the two title creatures). She’s fine here, in something of a tricky role; You can see her again in the Sundance movie Passing, which is getting a high-profile, awards season Netflix release later this year.
The Night House, which is being released in theaters only through Searchlight Pictures, is a mostly winning effort that accomplishes most of what it set out to do, even if many of its ideas have been seen previously, sometimes many times.