There’s great confidence in a film such as this to just chuck the reasonable explanations out in the window in favor of thematic importance. It’s a feature that is sure to be a frustrating component for that nitpicky audience member who apparently MUST know the secrets of a mysterious house. But do you really? If you’ve been on this ride before, ask yourself: Are the answers more important than what a film makes you feel? On this level, The Night House succeeds in being a thrilling bit of terror on the nature of grief and isolation.
Beth (Rebecca Hall) has just endured the suicide of her husband, Owen. At their lakefront house, he took a boat out on the water and shot himself. Grief consumes her in a somber and contemplative way. She tries not to take notice of footsteps in the ground or the boat on the dock. Should she pay too much attention, she may hear the gunshot again.
Choosing to bury herself in her work, Beth ventures back to college to continue teaching. Her co-workers are surprised to see her back but she needs a distraction. It’s a distraction that can only remain for so long before some complaining parent makes her give a mild and controlled rant about how arbitrary grades are after such an event.
Beth’s husband was quite the builder considering the work he did on the house. Sorting through his stuff, she notices something strange. There are blueprints for something that looks like a maze. She also finds some occult literature with highlighted passages. The deeper she digs, she discovers there’s a mysterious house in the wilderness that he was building. Why was he building such a labyrinth? Why was he obsessed with the demonic? What other secrets hasn’t he told Beth?
My interest was starting to wain once Beth makes these discoveries and it wasn’t because her journey wasn’t unique. My concerns were more that the film was going to arrive at some easy conclusion, that Beth’s husband had his mind warped by demons. The good news is that the film never settles on something so simple. Much more information is revealed but the revelations of Owen and his relationship with Beth are far more stirring than whether or not evil spirits are involved.
There’s still some spookiness to be had but it’s perfectly atmospheric. Beth finds herself hearing noises throughout the house and sometimes being awakened by stereos that have turned on inexplicably. While at home, she slowly loses touch with her senses, to the point of seeing flashbacks from her time with Owen. Her time with Owen wasn’t a warm dream of the past. Her visions find her mind witnessing Owen’s abuse and feeling a spirit within her home. She wants Owen back so badly even with all the warts of his weird obsession with trapping demons and his affairs with other women.
Beth’s neighbor of Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) tries to shield Beth from evils that would only damage her psyche further. He tries to help out with her yard work but she declines. He later reveals that Owen would often get drunk and confess his sins which he tried to keep from Beth. How Beth processes all of this information finds her deeply conflicted, both in terms of her mental state and how to be around others.
She later confronts the woman Owen was having an affair with and attempts to treat it more as a mark of closure than some bitter revenge. Beth’s friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) is also trying to look out for Beth and tries to be there for her, whether it’s a drunk night on the town or a depressed state at home. She may even be the crucial element that prevents Beth from going down a dark path of nihilism.
The Night House is a stirring, scary, and deeply contemplative horror picture that doesn’t take the easy route of a grieving ghost story. Beth’s journey is kept deliberately as surreal as it is mysterious and ultimately becomes more about closure than the house of demons and bodies. Few haunted house movies ever feel this reflective and it’s pleasing to see there’s still a whole lot more to this genre than just more spooky VFX (which there certainly are wielded quite well in this film).