The Night House (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Alone in her house

“The Night House” is a little horror film which did a rather impressive job of unnerving me from the beginning to the end. Although this is another case of woman-alone-in-terror flick, those expected moments of suspense and dread in the film are skillfully handled on the whole, and it is also supported well by the good acting from its very talented lead actress.

At first, the movie, whose story is mainly unfolded in and around a lake house located in some remote area of New York state, quickly establishes its heroine’s gloomy current status. During more than 10 years, Beth (Rebecca Hall) lived happily with her architect husband, but, alas, he recently committed suicide for no apparent reason, and she has been quite devastated and depressed to say the least. She was the one who often needed some emotional support, so he willingly provided that as a good husband, and that is why she feels more baffled and miserable while often wondering what actually drove him to killing himself.

Despite her rather fragile mental condition at present, Beth tries to go on with her life shortly after her husband’s funeral, but, of course, that turns out to be more difficult than she thought. When she returns to her workplace, everyone including her best friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) is naturally worried about her, and Claire suggests that Beth should have a drinking night along with her and their colleagues, but the mood soon becomes quite awkward when they later come to talk about the death of Beth’s husband. Beth does not mind this at all first, but it does hurt her feelings as she and others delve more into their grim conversation subject, and she only finds herself becoming more exhausted and depressed around the time when she returns to her house.

Meanwhile, we also get to know how Beth has been often unnerved by something inside the house. Whenever she tries to sleep after some night drinking, she hears strange sounds, and she also experiences several inexplicable incidents including the text from her husband’s smartphone. As she gets more disturbed every night, she comes to feel more of the possible presence of some supernatural figure, and that may be her husband’s ghost trying to tell something important to her besides his weird suicide note left her. On the surface, it looks like he was somehow influenced badly by her occasional melancholia, but the rather unnerving words in the note indirectly suggest that she may be in some serious unknown danger.

Maybe she is simply coping with her grief and following anxiety and depression, but Beth still cannot help but notice disturbing signs popping here and there around her. The smartphone of her husband turns out to contain the photograph of a woman who happens to look quite similar to her, and Beth’s suspicion grows more when she later discovers more of what her husband was hiding from her. There are a number of old strange books about a certain subject, and then there is also a hidden house on the other side of the lake, which, to her surprise and bafflement, is almost identical to her house which was incidentally designed and built by her husband himself.

Now I will be a bit more careful in my description of the film for not spoiling your entertainment, though, if you are a seasoned moviegoer like me, you will get a pretty good idea on what is going on around our heroine. As trembling more along with its heroine, the movie provides us a number of effectively unnerving moments which often make her and us question her sanity, and director David Bruckner and his crew members including cinematographer Elisha Christian and editor David Marks ably maintain the disturbingly gray ambience hovering over the heroine. The movie frequently looks pale and gloomy even during its daytime scenes, and we are more reminded of whatever is menacing its heroine somewhere inside the screen.

Around the point where it finally reveals the origin of its heroine’s continuing terror, the screenplay by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski comes to lose some of its narrative momentum as heading to its inevitable finale, but the movie still keeps us on the edge while diligently doling out good scary moments as before. I particularly like how it presents some of key shots in subtle but undeniably terrifying ways, and the result deserves to be compared with the scariest moments from Leigh Whannell’s “The Invisible Man” (2020).

Like “The Invisible Man” depends a lot on Elizabeth Moss’ strong performance, the movie relies a lot on its lead actress, and Rebecca Hall, who will impress us more with her upcoming directorial debut film “Passing” (2021), does not disappoint us at all as giving another solid performance in her acting career. She is absolutely convincing during many scenes where she has to convey to us her character’s growing terror and dread, and she is also supported well by several good supporting performers including Sarah Goldberg and Vondie Curtis-Hall, who plays a caring neighbor living not so far from Beth’s house.

In conclusion, “The Night House” will probably not surprise you much as mostly playing within its familiar genre territory, but it is still engaging mainly thanks to a number of commendable aspects including Hall’s terrific performance. During my viewing, I did care and worry about what eventually would happen to her character in the end, and that is always a good thing to be appreciated, you know.

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