The Night House

The Night House ★★★★

After her husband unexpectedly dies from suicide, Beth, a schoolteacher played by Rebecca Hall, struggles to come to terms with the loss while continuing to stay at the remote countryside lakehouse that he built for her. Although sudden solitude can bring about nightmares and uneasiness in its own right, Beth, who suffered with her own crippling depression when her husband was still alive, is convinced that her terrifying dreams and the strange sounds that she hears during her waking hours are not simply due to imagination. As she sifts through her deceased loved one's possessions and discovers clues about his possible secret life, she realizes that there is something more than grief waiting for her in the optical illusions that lie around every corner of the home.

The Night House, which premiered at Sundance in 2020 and is just now making its way into theaters, has one foot in vintage gothic horror cinema and the other firmly rooted in today's technology, even to the point of using text messaging and iPhone photo searches to generate an unnerving eeriness. Director David Bruckner, no stranger to the genre, understands the importance of a disquieting atmosphere, but also knows just the right moments to throw us some good old jump scares. Hall, in turn, is superb as a shattered woman who has no wariness about resorting to alcohol or coldly deadpan sarcasm in order to stay sane in her newly altered existence.

The lakehouse, a character in its own right, is a fascinatingly menacing work of architecture. In fact, I wish that the story had taken even more time to probe into its odd designs of mirror images and shapes that change according to a viewer's given perspective. I am reminded of Mark Z. Danielewski's intricate 2000 novel, House of Leaves.

I am still processing the conclusion of The Night House, which threatens to pull too many rugs out from under the audience in the final minutes. My first thought when the credits rolled was that more monsters and fewer metaphors would have led to a better outcome, but I ultimately decided that this story has just the right blend of demons from within and demons from otherwhere, knowing, as Hall's lead character does, that both have their own perils.

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