Review: In disturbing 'The Night House,' horror comes from within

Rebecca Hall is a powerhouse in psychological horror film that deals with the trauma of loss.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The scares in "The Night House" don't come from chainsaw-wielding psychos or from hockey mask-wearing boogeymen attacking in the dark. They come from pain, trauma, and the revealing of deeply disturbing truths. 

That makes "The Night House" resonate on a deeper, more cerebral level than your average horror movie. Leatherface or Jason can at least be fought. The psychological terrors in this riveting exercise in horror leave lasting scars on both its characters and viewers. It's not a movie that can be easily dismissed or swept away once the lights come on. 

Rebecca Hall in "The Night House."

Rebecca Hall anchors "The Night House" with an absolute stunner of a performance, one of the year's best. She plays Beth, a high school teacher in upstate New York who is picking up the pieces after the sudden suicide of her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), which happens off screen before we meet her. She's left in the couple's lake house, which he designed, where at night she sees visions of his looming presence.

Those visions include a doppelgänger version of their house, where everything is reversed, and they lead Beth to start digging through Owen's stuff. On his phone, she finds an innocuous picture of a woman who is not her. There are much worse things to find on a man's phone, her friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) tells her. But Beth keeps piecing things together, one by one, eventually following a light across the lake, where she finds a reverse model of their house that he was building in secret. 

There, the mystery deepens as Beth finds occult artifacts that hint that Owen was into some rather upsetting practices. A neighbor (Vondie Curtis-Hall) informs her of an affair he saw him having. And Beth begins to realize that she didn't know Owen at all, as the reality of his suicide comes into shocking focus with a gruesome, world-shattering discovery.

Hall is all raw emotion as she cycles through her character's grief — a scene where she she's confronted by the grade-grubbing parent of one of her students is masterful — as it turns to anger, and later anguish, and later complete dejection. She's a force of nature, and she digs in and makes every scene rattle. 

Director David Bruckner, working from a smart screenplay by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, creates an appropriately terrifying atmosphere of dread that keeps tightening around Beth. He builds scares into the architectural framework of the film while never losing focus of the inner horror inside Beth's head, and the human horror of mourning and loss.  

Things that go bump in the night are scary, no doubt. The things that go bump in the night are only the beginning of the scares in "The Night House," where what lingers in the mind is far more terrifying. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama 

'The Night House'

GRADE: B+

Rated R: for some violence/disturbing images, and language including some sexual references

Running time: 107 minutes

In theaters