Director David Bruckner has an undeniable ability to craft eerie, slow-building scares and that talent is on full display in his new feature The Night House. Similar to his previous film, the methodically haunting chiller The RitualThe Night House builds its scares on a foundation of unsettling moods and eerie happenings like a guided tour through a living nightmare. Written by Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski (Super Dark Times) the film is a dour exploration of grief and the darkness that looms over us all when we feel lost, and alone, and afraid. From story to screen, the film is a meticulously crafted haunted house story but one that falls short of paranormal perfection after a finale that feels built from the blueprints of something less daring and distinctive than its previous two acts.

The Night House stars Sarah Goldberg (Barry), Evan Jonigkeit (The Empty Man), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Die Hard II), and Rebecca Hall (Godzilla vs. Kong) in a role that has her bring to life some of the more barbed edges of grief. And just as her character Beth is left without her life partner, so too is Hall left without an acting partner for much of the film, forced to interact with a malevolent spirit all by her lonesome. Hall knocks it out of the park, as you would expect, but it is a bittersweet performance for horror fans still holding hope that roles like hers will one day be recognized by the stuffed shirts of the Hollywood bourgeoisie. For now, her talents will remain in horror’s pantheon of stellar performances next to The Changeling‘s George C. Scott and The Entity‘s Barbara Hershey.

 

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Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved


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Beth is a very recent widow, grieving her husband Owen (Jonigkeit) who has died very unexpectedly. Almost immediately after his death, Beth begins experiencing strange events in the house her late husband had designed and built himself. The stereo keeps repeating the same song late at night, mysterious footsteps appear around the property, and a voice calls out to her from the shadows. At the same time, she uncovers unpleasant truths about the husband she thought she knew. Reeling from this discovery, she begins an investigation that takes her down a very dark path to discover who her husband really was, and what is trying to make contact with her now that he is gone.

We all have scenes in movies that have scared us to our core, but nothing compares to that sense of dread that something is watching your every move from the darkness. The madness that drove Owen to his untimely demise was born in that darkness and that same obsessive mania has taken hold of Beth. She’s jumped into Owen‘s world without a map, trying her best to navigate a never-ending maze of secrets and hidden truths. It’s a brilliant visualization of grief and coming to terms with the fact that you really didn’t know the one person closest to you. It’s also filled with phantoms and freaky shadows that reach out to you with your cold, creepy fingers.


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Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

 

The scares of The Night House (what we’re all here for, really) are purely visual, but they resonate on an instinctual level. It’s a little hard to explain here on the page but the movie’s ghosts hide in plain sight like optical illusions. Remember that photo that can be either a candlestick or two faces? Imagine that, but one of the faces turns to look at you and you pee your pants. I’m not doing the moment justice here but it is truly one of the most unique uses of space to craft a scare. And that’s just one example of the horror lurking in The Night House. The film is loaded with impossibly eerie nightmare logic that bends reality and turns its location into a Halloween haunt with an otherworldly pulse.

The first two-thirds of The Night House are top-tier haunted house moviemaking. They feature a bold performance from Rebecca Hall as a zero-fucks-to-give widow, scares to blow your hair back, and lore as expertly crafted as Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style homes. The 3rd act plays itself a little safe for my liking but the pieces all fit together. There is nothing missing from The Night House but its final act didn’t satisfy me the way its previous hour had. This movie came out swinging but it didn’t save enough supernatural steam for the final round. It has the mystique and occultist trappings of a late 70s film challenging what a ghost story can be, but its resolution feels borrowed from modern horror’s insistence on personal growth. I look forward to seeing the movie show up on the horror community’s best of 2021 lists, and I strongly encourage you to seek this supernatural shocker wherever it’s available but for me, personally, the brilliance of the film is hidden in the framework that held the structure of this story together.

 

“…top-tier haunted house moviemaking […] the mystique and occultist trappings of a late 70s film…”

 

David Bruckner’s The Night House celebrated its Canadian Premiere at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival and hits theaters August 20th, from Searchlight Pictures. Click HERE to follow all of our festival coverage, and be sure to let us know what you thought of the haunted house chiller (and if you’re excited to see Bruckner’s upcoming remake of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser) over on TwitterRedditFacebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.

 

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