Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The Night House (2021 movie)


There's a certain "Hotel California"-ness to most house horror that can get a little exhausting. If they can check out anytime they like, why do these hapless, terrorized characters never leave? (Or for the love of Airbnb, just take a long weekend.) Director David Bruckner's uncanny mood piece The Night House (in theaters Friday) at least gives its heartbroken protagonist, Beth (Rebecca Hall), a compelling reason to stay: The bucolic upstate lake home that most of the movie takes place in was built by her late architect husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). They were happy there, and it's hardly been a week since he inexplicably took his own life in the little rowboat bobbing out front.

It's also soon clear that he has not — judging by the things that bump and go bloody in the night — entirely vacated the premises. Rust-colored footsteps scatter down the dock; urgent all-caps text messages materialize and disappear like a Magic 8 Ball; the couple's wedding song (Richard and Linda Thompson's haunted waltz "The Calvary Cross") continuously cues up of its own accord, a macabre playlist made for one.

While her well-meaning neighbor (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and best friend (The Report's Sarah Goldberg) do what they can to be supportive, everyone presumes it's just part of the mourning process. But Beth, a smart, pragmatic high school teacher, had her own unsettling brush with mortality as a teenager, and she's too overwhelmed by mounting evidence not to believe that there's something about Owen's death that won't rest.

Rebecca Hall in 'The Night House'
| Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Though the bag of tricks that Bruckner (V/H/SThe Ritual) digs through — the jump scares and shadow figures, the eerily suspended rules of gravity and physics — are familiar, he uses them to build a kind of clanging, feverish atmosphere. And British actress Hall (The Gift, Godzilla vs. Kong), tasked with carrying nearly every scene, grounds her performance in more than meat-puppet panic; her unraveling springs from genuine, furious grief. Though its final scenes don't stick the landing, devolving into a muddle of grisly discoveries and half-baked mythology, the movie's stylized dread lingers, a doorway to an upside-down world whose stakes stay (nearly) real enough to make us care. Grade: B

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The Night House (2021 movie)

A woman reeling from the unexpected death of her husband experiences disturbing visions in the lakeside home he built for her.

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