2020 was an insane year. From a devastating pandemic, worldwide police brutality marches, a bizarre election, missing toilet paper, and spicy chicken sandwiches (Popeye’s was better). While the pandemic had us on lockdown, movie theaters weren’t deemed essential. Production studios had to reconstruct their model to get movies to the audience. It was easy for many cinema titles to fall through the cracks. And The Night House (2020) was one of them for me.
Director David Bruckner and his writers, Ben Collin and Luke Piotrowski, have become some of my favorites in horror curation over the past decade. They brought us The Ritual (2017), Hellraiser (2022), Southbound (2015), and, my personal favorite, several V/H/S installments (see my vhs ode to found footage here). So when I found he made a movie that dropped during the pandemic with Rebecca Hall I was shocked — and a little disappointed in myself to be honest. Nonetheless, I was stoked to watch The Night House.
The Night House (2020) Synopsis
The Night House (2020) is a psychological horror film directed by David Bruckner (Hellraiser (2022) and written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski. (Siren (2016), The film stars Rebecca Hall (The Gift (2015) as a widow who discovers a dark secret about the house her recently deceased architect husband built. Other cast members include Sarah Goldberg (Barry (2018), Evan Jonigkeit (The Empty Man (2020).
Beth’s world is jarringly ripped apart by her husband Owen’s sudden suicide. She’s the type of person who prefers to stay busy and return to work sooner than later. She boxes up her husband’s items while refusing friends’ help.
While Beth is living in her lakeside home Owen designed and built for her, she begins to hear hammering on walls at night and the radio turning on. Beth is a genuine atheist by experience and is unsure if these are dreams or just grief-stricken episodes. She feels a presence in the home, despite her beliefs.
One night she wakes to hear Owen’s stereo playing again. Beth receives some texts from her late husband telling her to look out the window. There she sees Owen standing on the lake. Beth comes to the next morning on the floor, thinking she slept walk or possibly drank too much. Beth unpacks Owens’s phone to discover there aren’t any texts from the other side. She does, however, discover dozens of photos of women who resemble Beth.
She tracks down and confronts one of the doppelgänger women her deceased husband spent time with. Expecting they had an affair, she’s informed by the other woman that Owen may have had a violent side and wanted to hurt her and these other women.
Beth isn’t one to stop digging, she uncovers Owen’s secret stowed away books for a house design that mirrors their house, but in reverse. Books on voodoo totems and mazes for controlling spirits. Again at night she is met by the paranormal entities. It guides her across the lake in the boat Owen killed himself in. Onshore she goes deep into the woods and discovers the abandoned mirrored house replica where she has more visions.
While the paranormal presence is becoming unavoidable and more frequent in her life, Beth still has her convictions that there is no afterlife. One night, Beth gets tipsy and confides in her closest friend Claire that Owen had left a suicide note that read “You were right, there is nothing. Nothing is after you. You are safe now”. Beth informs Claire how she became agnostic. She was in a fatal car crash years ago and was clinically dead for 4 minutes. She remembers witnessing absolute nothingness. Owen was the only person she told this to.
After another hard brandy binge. Beth is compelled to storm over to the mirrored copy house across the lake. Screaming for the entity she believes is Owen to give her answers. When she accidentally discovers the motherload of horrors under the floor. In shock, she rushes home to call Claire. Not before the presence of the entity misleadingly confronts Beth in her home and she is forced to swallow some heavy truths about the nothingness she encountered years ago.
Going in I was hoping that The Night House wasn’t just another Swayze or Invisible Man ghost love story. What I received was a much more sinister antagonist that gave me Frank vibes from Donnie Darko. The Night House is full of fun jump scares. The sound design has a nice feel that vibrates “the shape” energy. However, this film had more up its sleeves than jump scares and great sound.
The purposeful direction was kept top secret until the third big act reveal, which I found clever and original. The thrilling mystery that unraveled throughout the film wasn’t annoyingly vague, nor was it predictable. However after the double take, admittedly maybe I could’ve seen some things coming.
I loved the voodoo component to The Night House, sequences with the blood moon and limbo world were a cool element that I wish they explored more. Perhaps with a scene that shows younger Beth’s death encounter and experiencing the “nothingness” further?
Final Thoughts- The Night House (2020)
The Night House was a blend of old ideas and some new ones that I found pretty fun with an original twist. Rebeca Hall’s strong performance as a grieving widow progressing through psychological torment was solid. I wish there was more of the nothingness explored since it was such a dark concept, but I understand why it was unpacked as it was. David Bruckner has been becoming one of my favorite directors to track in horror cinema and I’ll definitely be more alert for his upcoming projects.
You can watch The Night House on HBO Max now and On Demand. Check out the trailer below!