James Jay Edwards

David Bruckner’s The Night House Serves Up a Creepy Supernatural Mystery

(The Night House, courtesy Searchlight Pictures)

James Jay Edwards reviews The Night House, a psychological horror film directed by David Bruckner and starring Rebecca Hall. (Searchlight Studios

 

Filmmaker David Bruckner is carving out a cool little niche for himself in the horror world. He cut his teeth doing segments for anthology movies like V/H/S, Southbound, and The Signal, and his first feature, a freaky Netflix original called The Ritual, seemed to please both fans and critics. His second, The Night House, might just put him over the top.

The Night House is about a young woman named Beth (Godzilla vs. Kong’s Rebecca Hall) who loses her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit from X-Men: Days of Future Past), to suicide. As she works her way through the grieving process, she begins to notice strange and unexplainable phenomena around the lakeside home that Owen built especially for them. While investigating the weirdness, the young widow uncovers some seedy facts about her deceased partner, ones that make her think that he may have been leading a double life.

 

(The Night House, theatrical release poster, courtesy Searchlight Pictures)

It’s hard to be creative when it comes to haunted house movies. Between Robert Wise’s The Haunting and James Wan’s The Conjuring, it’s all been seen and done. The Night House manages to find a fresh perspective on the age-old motif. The screenplay was written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, a duo who are carving out their own comfortable niche in horror with their screenplays for Super Dark Times and Siren (which was based on Bruckner’s segment from V/H/S—it’s all connected!). On the surface, The Night House is a ghost story. But when the layers are peeled back, it’s so much more.

With Beth’s snooping around her husband’s history, there’s a serious mystery tone to The Night House. And the clues she uncovers are both shocking and damning, making her question whether or not she ever really knew the person she loved more than anyone else in the world. That love keeps her looking for answers to questions that she knows she isn’t going to like, digging for information that she willingly understands will hurt her. She just has to know. And that’s the mystery.

 

(The Night House, courtesy Searchlight Pictures)

The supernatural thriller aspects of the story are more visceral. The house, one which Owen lovingly crafted with his own hands as a place for him and his bride to live and grow old together, becomes a sinister character in the film. Bruckner leans heavily into the visual aspects of the haunting, leading the viewer to never trust what they see onscreen. In one instance, a shadowy male figure will be visible in the background, only to disappear as the room comes into focus. The architectural lines of the home form ghostly shapes, so the viewer plays “did I just see that?” right along with Beth. Bruckner makes the house creep with ambiguity, and it’s brilliant.

There are solid What Lies Beneath vibes to The Night House (and anyone who hasn’t seen Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 spookfest really should—it’s amazing). Both movies hinge on women who are ultimately distrustful of their husbands, and both are anchored by the performances of the actresses playing them (Michelle Pfeiffer then, Rebecca Hall now). Both are visually stunning, and the visuals lead to some serious scares. And both have seatbelt endings. The Night House is a darker movie, and a louder one, but the influence is there. And that’s a good influence to have for a haunted house movie.

 

(The Night House, courtesy Searchlight Pictures)

Thanks to COVID shutting the world down, The Night House has lived in limbo since its January 2020 Sundance premiere. But David Bruckner has already started work on his next project, a reboot of Clive Barker’s 1987 classic Hellraiser (from a script by Collins and Piotrowski, no less) that is due in 2022. So, he’s just going to keep carving out that horror niche. And as long as the movies are good, more power to him. Carve away.

The Night House is playing now, only in theaters.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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