Of all the genres of cinema, horror arguably contains the most trademarks and tropes, whether it’s basement-based jump scares or a hapless prey running from an attacker in the woods, only to inevitably trip and fall. In his latest effort, director David Bruckner subverts the expectations of the haunted house movie whilst playfully pandering to cliché.
Psychological drama The Night House centres around Beth (Rebecca Hall), a college professor in mourning after her husband’s sudden suicide. Reeling with grief within the creepy confines of her luxury lakeside home, she experiences nightmarish visions that distort her perception of reality, leading to shocking revelations.
Co-scripted by the writing team of Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, their whip-smart narrative is constructed in a way that maintains a sense of intrigue throughout without going off the edge into absurdity. The opening act establishes the protagonist’s character, a sharper and more cynical presence than we normally associate with films of this ilk. Slickly shot dreamlike sequences are gradually drip-fed into the story as Bruckner crafts genuine terror with a blend of clever camerawork and an apt accompanying score. Beth is almost being gaslit from beyond the grave as she picks apart the plot, questioning her sanity as more is revealed about her late partner’s past.
Whilst the storytelling skilfully tows the line of silliness, we are allowed to suspend our disbelief due to a towering leading turn from Rebecca Hall. She is a class act and manages the tone of the film masterfully. In moments of tension, we’re often found shouting ‘don’t go in there!’ or ‘turn on the light!’, astounded by characters’ stupidity as they walk idly into dangerous situations. However, despite her emotional turmoil, Beth is no ‘final girl’ and certainly no victim, and Hall’s solidifies this with her silver screen quality.
Furthering Bruckner’s reputation as one of the best contemporary horror directors in the business, The Night House is a stylish and suspenseful piece, elevated by Rebecca Hall’s excellent performance.