The new thriller “The Night House” indeed has its share of jump scares, though thankfully this rather clever and intelligent supernatural thriller from director David Bruckner (working from a screenplay by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski) has much more on its mind than simply inducing fright in the viewer—which it certainly accomplishes.
The filmmakers give us no time to breathe as we are dropped in on the immediate aftermath of of funeral for a man who died via suicide. His grieving widow Beth (Rebecca Hall) is faced with the unenviable task of going through her husband’s effects, as well as determining the meaning behind a rather cryptic suicide note telling Beth she is “safe” now. We know better, and soon so will she.
Hall plays Beth as a cynical woman who is haunted in more ways than one. In addition to things starting to go bump in the night in the house she and her husband shared, we learn that Beth was once in a car accident during which she flatlined but returned to life. On the other side, she saw “nothing,” and has carried the weight ever since of this terrible, existential knowledge.
Yet if there is in fact nothing beyond death, how to explain the supernatural occurrences going on at Beth’s lakeside home? The radio turns itself on in the middle of the night, and she sees ghostly footprints leading from the docked rowboat, where her husband killed himself, up to their house.
Beth experiences visions—or perhaps dreams—of a reverse reality, in which she sees a doppelgänger of her own home, but with everything somehow backwards. What is going on? Suffice to say there shall be revelations about her husband’s life that she would rather not have known, and that something dark in his past will connect with the uncanny visions Beth has of her uncanny, backwards home.
The revelations, such as they are, begin to bog down what had hitherto been a taut psychological drama. Explanations inevitably undermine the terror, and the convoluted backstory of Beth’s husband’s suicide stretches credibility, as does her eventual showdown with a demonic villain whose existence stretches the definition of what it means to in fact be “no thing.”
But never mind. Hall’s performance is exceptional and rises above the material. We feel her anger and confusion as she digs through the detritus of a life left emptier by her husband’s suicide—and that’s before the supernatural stuff come along. She elevates potential potboiler storytelling into a human drama, giving us a character we care about and sympathize with as what she understands as her own reality come undone.
And kudos to director Bruckner for having me looking over my shoulder in the darkened room where I watched “The Night House.”
This film comes out Friday.