Fantasia ’21 Review: ‘The Night House’ is effectively creepy, foreboding, and scary

Grief is powerful and can mess with your mind and body in ways you wouldn’t expect. This makes it a perfect feeling to fill with horror, an emotion that also messes with your mind and body in ways you don’t expect. As a genre of filmmaking, horror has benefited from this union in many creative ways over the history of film, and it does so again in The Night House.

Taking place in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s suicide, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is reeling. She still lives in the house he built for her, and everything around her is a reminder of his absence in her life. To dull the pain, she begins drinking, and soon after that, she begins to hear and see things.

To tell you much more about the plot would be unfair; this kind of scary movie is best experienced with as little knowledge as possible to keep the scares and the tone fresh. However, I will say that even though it doesn’t stick the landing, The Night House is one of the most effectively scary films I have seen in a long time.

Ed. Note: As of this writing, there have been more than 3000 cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days where I live in BC. Numbers are continuing to grow, and by all accounts, the Delta variant is more virulent than any that came before. I’m pointing this out because while it’s reasonably safe to see a movie here in Vancouver, it may not be where you are, and while The Night House is best experienced in theatres, no movie is worth risking your health or anyone else’s. So please remember to wear your mask, to maintain social distancing, and that if it isn’t –or doesn’t feel– safe to see a movie where you are, The Night House will be on-demand before the end of the year.

Rebecca Hall in the film THE NIGHT HOUSE. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

As with all horror films, this is because of two people: Rebecca Hall giving a completely committed and sincere performance, and director David Bruckner having a precise handle on how to move and point the camera to most efficiently and effectively build dread. Bruckner also knows exactly when and how to deliver a jump scare –there are several in the film that are among the most effective I have seen or felt in ages, and all of them are timed perfectly and serve a narrative or character purpose. That is to say, none of them feels cheap or lazy as jump scares so often can.

Rebecca Hall remains one of our more underrated performers, as well. We’re used to seeing her show up in a film and steal scenes, and it’s nice to see her leading the whole movie. So much of the film is just her in an empty house, and her performance of grief and anger is spot on, with subtle moments that anyone who has been through the loss of a close family member will feel deeply. As with many horror films, this role would be very easy to end up with a performance that feels silly or cartoonish, but Hall makes it feel sincere and genuine and lived in.

Unfortunately, while the first two acts of the film are excellently constructed in these regards, the film’s resolution leaves something to be desired. The film spends so much time building up Beth’s state of mind, casting doubts on whether she actually is seeing things or not, that it forgets to establish much about what is actually going on or what exactly might be haunting her. By the time this information is revealed, it doesn’t feel like an earned reveal so much as a twist, and that’s a little disappointing. In addition, the film’s ending is a little abrupt and ambiguous, a purposeful choice to be sure, and that may not sit right with viewers either.

Rebecca Hall and Vondie Curtis-Hall in the film THE NIGHT HOUSE. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Of course, this sounds like I am saying that it’s a bad movie that is by no means the case. On the contrary, the Night House is one of the most effectively creepy and scary movies I have seen in a long time and a welcome return to theatres for myself. Indeed, the ending doesn’t land well, but everything up to that ending is superb. I’d also be willing to wager that a very specific subset of people is going to connect with the ending very strongly, too.

The Night House had its Canadian premiere at Fantasia Film Festival last week and is now in theatres.


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