The Night House is not a sequel to The Lighthouse, although it does take place near a large body of water. Following her husband’s suicide, Beth (Rebecca Hall) discovers mysterious items among his possessions – including photos of women who look like her and blueprints for a reverse version of their house.
David Bruckner’s (The Signal, The Ritual) latest chiller is a nice twist on the classic ghost story. Rather than move into a creepy old house, Beth is left in a relatively new one that becomes haunted by the man she thought she knew. This also helps answer the usual question of why one would stay in such a place; Beth is more comforted than disturbed by the presence, adding further motivation to not part with the home her late husband recently built for them.
The modern lakeside property is an interesting setting for a haunting, laying the foundations for intelligent scares based on emotional and architectural logic. There is a mistaken belief in mainstream horror flicks that audiences need to be told when a jump scare is around the corner. Bruckner bucks that trend with jumps that come out of nowhere, alongside a clever use of optical illusions literally built into the production design. It makes last year’s The Invisible Man look like Hollow Man.
All that horror is grounded by a caustic Rebecca Hall, in her element as a petrified, passionate scream queen; a label that normally implies just the one note but in the right hands can be as rich and layered as Hall is here. If only the plotting matched her performance, The Night House might have been something special. Instead we get a slow build and rushed denouement as though the contractors were on the take, spending their sweet time before suddenly disappearing into the night.
There is a reason the reveals in supernatural films are usually alluded to in scattered, often oblique visual clues throughout the movie. Here the twist is given away in one clumsily placed line that is so conspicuously ignored that it can only be significant. It is doubly unfortunate for a picture with such brilliant, ambiguous visual language to be overexplained in dialogue – and when a mystery is so well constructed, a bad finish can obscure all that fine craftsmanship.