Judging by the audience at my local cinema, most of them were expecting The Night House to be a bog-standard horror, in the vein of other typically hollow haunted house flicks. Once people realised this was something different, I think quite a few of them were disappointed, but not me. The trailer below offers us one of the most intriguing plots of the last two decades but it also makes the story-line seem straight-forward. By the time we get to an ever-so-slightly surreal and poetic finale, I think some people may have felt like they were sold something they didn’t receive. But fuck ’em. The plot, in case you don’t know, goes something like this: After her husband Owen (played by Evan Jonigkeit) commits suicide, Beth (played by Rebecca Hall) discovers that her hubby led a secretive life. His phone and laptop have numerous photos of women who look similar to Beth and one of his drawing pads includes plans for a house that is the mirror image of theirs. Was Owen cheating on Beth? Did he build the reverse house? What was he doing and why did he commit suicide?
Instead of being another You Should Have Left (which the trailer kinda makes this look like) the plot of The Night House is closer to Final Destination with someone cheating death and death itself (or the afterlife or the lack of it) coming to collect the soul it was promised. In addition to the personification of death or a postmortem demon, the story is also like a cross between Ghost and Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, with ideas of love, a reverse-world, and other Twilight Zone-esque strangeness juxtaposed together with the supernatural to create a unique horror-thriller.
As a survivor of an accident, Beth describes dying or the afterlife not as the typical light at the end of the tunnel but “all tunnel”. This is the distinctive part of the film but it’s simultaneously the reason for the lukewarm response by some audience members. Demons and dimensions is what this movie comes down to, as well as a clever change of emphasis in Owen’s suicide note (and in the final line) in the style of The Conversation. Reading the note (“Nothing Is Out There, Nothing Is After You”) in two ways is quite clever given the reveal, although I’d have preferred a better actor than Evan Jonigkeit who could have looked more menacing when he wasn’t himself or regretful when he was doing a John Wayne Gacy in his reverse property. There’s also a potential comment on serial killers, a la Frailty; are they doing wrong for the right reasons? But this isn’t really honed-in on.
From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Enemy, I love an enigmatic ending but that’s not what you get here, despite people online and at the cinema I attended looking bewildered. Even though I liked the overall film, I will acknowledge that there is a problem: the ending doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Something or the lack of something or the space between objects is still something and therefore not nothing (that sentence will make more sense it you’ve watched the film). The depiction of “nothing” is potentially a frightening concept as long as you don’t think too much about it. Given that you (and it) would have to exist in order to experience something and feel any kind of emotion toward some thing, precludes there being no thing. I guess the film-makers have done their best given film is a physical medium but on repeat viewings, this part of the plot almost becomes akin to the end of Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes; it’s surprising and shocking as long as you ignore the absurdity and impossibility of it.
As a fan of Hereditary, I wanted the occultist aspect of the story to be expanded on but this is a satisfying horror nevertheless. The optical illusions and pareidolia in The Night House makes Lake Mungo look like a kid’s TV show (actually it kind of already did) and it’s nice to see that the skin-touching effects have come along since The Entity. There’s also some very successful jump scares, a fantastic score (which adds to them) and some wonderful editing, especially when Hall awakes looking at a gun website rather than a property site. All in all, this is a thinking person’s Invisible Man with something deeper to say about life, death, and relationships.
Of course this film isn’t all tunnel. There’s a very good performance at the centre of it all. Rebecca Hall’s acting which runs the full gamut of emotions from grief to annoyance to anger to madness, is one of the main reasons to watch The Night House. While she may be getting typecast as a suicide-by-gun victim or this is some kind of in-joke about Christine Chubbuck, Rebecca Hall is someone who can hold down a flawed movie as she proved in Christine. From the unique story to the captivating central character, The Night House is a thrilling horror movie that will most likely become a cult favourite thanks to one-dimensional horror fans.