In the past ten years, we’ve seen a resurgence of great horror films like Black Swan, It Follows, Annabelle, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Don’t Breathe, Split, Get Out, mother!, It (2017), Revenge, Happy Death Day, Mandy, Hereditary, Annihilation, Unsane, A Quiet Place, The Wind, Midsommar, Possessor, The Invisible Man, Freaky, Censor, among many others. Out of those 23 films, they all have their own, unique take on the horror genre. Sure, they share some commonality between them, as the psychological horror-thriller rose to popularity, but they all have their own wrinkles. Black Swan makes us question the main character’s sanity, Don’t Breathe & A Quiet Place makes us hold our breaths, Get Out makes us question the sociology behind racism, The Invisible Man makes us question our own sanity, and films like Happy Death Day & Freaky gave us some added humor into the horror formula, ala Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, but with a lot less camp.
Everybody has secrets, don’t let it weigh on you.Sarah Goldberg as Claire
The Night House reinvents the formula by taking the classic ghost story and infusing elements from films like The Invisible Man (directed by Leigh Whannel), A Ghost Story (directed by David Lowery, who just directed & released The Green Knight) & Black Bear (directed by Lawrence Michael Levine). So, if you have seen any of the films I just mentioned, you’ve got a decent pulse on the tone and themes of The Night House.
There you go! A B! That’s what you wanted, right?Rebecca Hall as Beth
Strangely, the direction by David Bruckner seems to take a back seat to service his cast & crew. Regardless, this decision was the best thing to do for The Night House. I have always been a fan of trusting an audience to understand the story’s direction without overexplaining it. The people you’re working with will work their best by focusing on the material.
You’re the most skeptical person I know and now you’re telling me your house is haunted.Sarah Goldberg as Claire
The screenplay by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski isn’t my favorite. There are tropes present like the empty house during the opening credits, a grieving significant other stroking the pillow their lover once used, and tons of unnecessary jump scares (except one that I won’t spoil for you). But, as I mentioned earlier, if you’ve seen The Invisible Man, you’ve got a good grip on what film to expect. The story tackles grief, depression, self-destruction, and the sacredness of relationships, but the way it executes it feels a lot like gaslighting at points. That said, I still can’t help to be drawn in by it all.
Speaking of, Rebecca Hall’s performance as Beth is her best yet. She’s required to shoulder much of the film’s runtime on her own, and she pulls it all flawlessly. We see her wrestle with the loss of the love of her life and how that destroys her mentally. The viewer is called to question whether Beth is trying to make sense of her husbands’ death or losing her mind. It’s excellent work, and I hope she does more of these kinds of films in the future.
I’m not actually filming…unless you want me to.Rebecca Hall as Beth
Another outstanding performance is Sarah Goldberg’s as Beth’s best friend and co-worker, Claire. I genuinely believe every word Claire says and trust her implicity, much like Beth does. That’s chemistry not often found in horror films, much less a major studio feature. I can’t wait to see what Goldberg does next. I just wish she was featured more.
One of the best parts of The Night House is the cinematography by Elisha Christian. There are tons of cool tricks on display here like abundant empty space that features characters in silhouette or gorgeous scenes like one that featured several women in different floors of a house that is choreographed to look like a dance or a shot of Beth’s eyes acting as a mirror for the moon.
The VFX is also some of the best I’ve seen this year. Consisting of abstract imagery that mimics optical illusions (and other things I won’t spoil), the VFX work by Zero VFX, Crafty Apes, and Labyrinth Cinematic Solutions is breathtaking.
Aiding the cinematography and VFX, there’s the symmetrical set design by production designer Kathrin Eder, which is phenomenal. As frequently as Beth loses all sense of time and space, so does the viewer. Not once did I look at a frame and understand what I was looking for or at.
I didn’t expect to say this before seeing The Night House, but David Marks’ editing deserves special mention. For example, several scene transitions blend seamlessly together, with one transition looking like the kind you’d see in a film like Birdman, where it looks like one continuous shot. Or, in another example, there’s a needle-drop to the opening title card that is just, chef’s kiss perfect.
Likewise, the entire sound department deserves a raise. There are quiet moments in the film that are just so richly detailed that, with the right sound system (here’s hoping the home release gets a Dolby Atmos track!), give you so much detail about what’s happening in the center of the frame, and give hints as to what’s around the edges or just out of frame.
A horror film with great music? Yup! Ben Lovett (also known as simply Lovett) creates a sense of tension by using something Lovett calls “negative harmony,” which takes a melody and flips them to create a sense of duality of the original note. Lovett uses this technique also to tell quick bits of the story that even the best script wouldn’t be able to convey.
With the help of an enormously talented cast & crew, Bruckner takes the negatives — excessive jumpscares and over-reliance on storytelling tropes — to make a new kind of spin on one of the oldest horror tropes in the book that I can’t stop thinking about. See this in theaters if you can.
The Night House is now available to watch in theaters near you.
Until next time!