Define intrigue. How does a narrative get your attention? Whether it be a book, a show, or a movie, one thing that often seems to be consistent is the viewer's ability to connect to the protagonists. In a way that you want to see their story to the end. In the case of the new horror film The Night House, Rebecca Hall's central performance as Beth is not only important in making the film such a gripping and, at times, heartbreaking film, it's the most important part. Many films, especially horror, are made or broken based off the lead character's ability to carry the struggle of the lead and the torture from which they suffer. And Hall does that and more.
The film begins in an unconventional nature for the genre, focusing on Hall's character Beth returning home from the funeral of her husband Owen who, for an unknown reason, committed suicide in a boat in the middle of a lake that their custom-made house sits next to. Hall dances with anguish and pent-up mourning, listening to some cathartic music and drinking what feels like endless glasses of wine. She throws her husband's things in a box and watches videos of them together. But then...a noise is heard and she looks through a glass door only to see something...well bizarre in the reflection. From there, you are instantly hooked into a tale that is unconventional at every turn. And the answers eventually given are not so simple. But you leave satisfied because Hall carries the film with a personal goal to find resolution in several forms.
Hall has made a career off playing unnerving women or women mentally taut, ready to explode. Whether it's the titular character in the biopic Christine or one of the two female leads in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, she has mastered this niche in all it's forms. Here, that particular talent is pushed to a new level, carrying her into an emotional downspiral as she realistically conveys a wide range of emotions, even bringing some dark humor to the film from time-to-time. And Beth's journey couples with a twisting narrative crafted by screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski that, for lack of better description, puts her through the ringer. The film knows how to misdirect you at every turn, making you think you know what's happening or what's coming, only to throw you for a loop. Reality and fantasy slowly blur together through dreams and emotionally-driven visuals that cinematographer Elisha Christian maximizes with tight camera angles and extreme close-ups.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Night House is that the score is not always horrific. This perhaps lends to the film's twisty charm, but composer Ben Lovett will at times couple his score with Hall's character to convey moments of great sadness before suddenly making a 180 and having you jump. This translates to the whole film. It's not conventional, nor is it easy. In fact, upon viewing it, I still find myself wondering whether I was watching an exploration of one theme or another. But one thing is certain, director David Bruckner has guided this film with strong direction that effectively utilizes his principal lead at every turn. And it's a rare film where the set piece in question, the home of Beth, requires praise. One that reveals itself as more than it appears, but never straying from the structure that is established. Rather, it forces audiences to have new perception for Hall's character and her surroundings that lead to an emotional climax.
Though at times the movie may briefly stall narratively to appraise it's own genius, Hall keeps you emotionally invested. Sadly, being a genre film, it's a strong bet that Hall will not receive any kind of nomination for her astounding work. That doesn't make her accomplishment here, of delivering a raw performance, any less impressive. Though, hopefully, it will translate into more work that allows her to continue to stun audiences as she has here with a film that ends on a strangely oxymoronic conclusion that is both definitive and ambiguous. No small feet to pull off.
Briefly paused moments that very mildly halt otherwise brilliant pacing.