Rebecca Hall leading any film is always something of interest but the idea of her taking a lead in a horror film after her excellent work in Nick Murphy’s atmospheric chiller The Awakening makes it even more so. An actress who always seems locked into whatever performance she’s giving, even with the “that sounds like an easy paycheque” worthy work of Godzilla vs Kong, it is a thrill to report then that her teaming up with David Bruckner, director of the solid, promising The Ritual has resulted in both an effective horror experience and a real tour de force showcase from Hall.
Having been picked up by Searchlight from Sundance in 2020, there was always an air that this was a horror experience that had the more “arty” side than your more visceral, fun gorefest fare and indeed this is the case. Hall’s widow trying to live her life after her husband’s unexpected suicide but finding that his presence may still be very much real is a character you feel real empathy for, and early, with the smart decision made to show that she is bruised and can lash out, not in histrionic crying and screaming but in a darkly comic line of passive-aggressive moments where she undercuts those around her but in a way which gets you entirely on board. It is an intensely lived in performance, one where you just know Hall really gives a shit about what she’s doing.
A large part of the film is her by herself however and in these moments she’s perhaps even better. In the late stages of the runtime she has to fully visualise how her grief, loneliness and depression are close to engulfing her and it results in moments of physical acting which border on the uncomfortable to watch, made more so by the horror inflections Bruckner adds.
Bruckner indeed brings the scares when he needs to, starting early by playing on very real fears you may have when waking up in the middle of the night before delving into more surreal sequences which make you question the nature of what is being seen and what it all means, this feeling increasing all the way through until you get to an ending which the more you think about, the more troubling it may seem.
Not all of the film lands, Vondie Curtis-Hall is very good in his role as a neighbour but its a shame that he becomes more of an exposition machine as proceedings go on and Stacy Martin has a bit of a thankless role which felt like it could have been something more complicated than it turns out to be, though Sarah Goldberg makes a real impression as a friend who becomes more and more worried but can only do so much to help.
The Night House is a damn good horror movie, an acting masterclass and something which you’ll want to talk about with people for hours after its done, and its one you’ll be glad you made the effort to see on the big screen (obviously if you feel safe to do so).