A standard approach to horror is asking questions and thinking of scenarios that, in real life, would shatter your existence. What if the person I loved most died? What if they had committed suicide? What if I didn’t know them as well as I thought?
Horror is full of stories like this: Stephen King himself has told this story from both points of view of grieving husband in Bag of Bones, and grieving wife in Lisey’s Story, and The Night House is the latest to put a relationship that was seemingly solid under the microscope with deeply unsettling results.
The Night House is far from an original film, especially in a media landscape where Mike Flanagan’s Haunting of Hill House/ Bly Manor, series’ have become so popular. This is horror, so originality isn’t usually high on the list, but the question is, what separates The Night House from all the other run of the mill haunted house movies out there? The answer is simple: Rebecca Hall.
Rebecca Hall plays Beth, a high school teacher who is grinding through the aftermath of her husband’s recent suicide and the trauma that comes with it – but the lakeside home that they shared doesn’t feel empty. Is her husband trying to reach her from across the veil? Or could it be something else? Something from Beth’s own past?
Hall is no stranger to the haunted house sub-genre and has even elevated the sub-par The Awakening into something of a cult film. The Night House is a stronger film than The Awakening, mainly because Hall is allowed to give a convincingly raw and spiky performance. In fact, Hall’s career has been full of these types of performances, and not just in the horror genre. Some scenes in The Night House gave me a hugely uncomfortable reminder of the actor’s stellar but little-seen work on the film, Christine (no, not the car) – without Hall I feel that The Night House’s admirable twist on the typical haunted house movie would collapse under its own weight.
Hall makes it easy to buy in and empathise with Beth’s feelings of sadness, confusion, and rage, making the familiar plot from feeling too by-the-numbers. Her anger and sharpness give the character real edge, instead of the oft-covered demurely grieving widow seen in these kinds of stories; she’s angry and difficult, and centering the story around her search for answers to salve her own shattered psyche gives the film a more immediate forward motion. Watching her navigate this bizarre ghost story through the lens of the architecture that her house-building husband left behind is, in Hall’s hands, genuinely fascinating and utterly compelling.
The Night House is a character study first and a ghost story second – and, with an actor like Rebecca Hall leading that study, it’s downright brilliant as a result.
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By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Variety)