by Rob DiCristino
The strangest thing about The Night House is that it’s a mid-budget horror film due for theatrical release by a major studio in this Year of Our Lord 2021. Doesn’t that feel off, for some reason? Though director David Bruckner made a big splash on Netflix with 2017’s The Ritual, it just seems odd. COVID concerns aside, even, our modern landscape seems destined to send movies like this to Shudder or Amazon. But, nope! There’s the “Searchlight Pictures” (blah) logo, right at the start! The studio paid $12 million to acquire the film out of Sundance, and it’s finally coming to theaters this Friday after more than a year on the shelf. Movie theaters. Just like the old days! Maybe I’m fixating too much on this, but I was shocked. And it’s not to say The Night House doesn’t deserve it, either! It does, and we’ll get into that. But it might be a grim commentary on the state of cinema that I was put off by the idea of it dying a slow death next to Shang-Chi and Paw Patrol: The Movie. I suppose the alternative is that it dies a slow death in some obscure corner of Hulu, so I don’t really know what I’m on about. I digress.
It reads a bit like a Lifetime thriller, but The Night House is all about atmosphere. Among the many debts it owes to The Shining is its use of what we’ll call “architectural horror”: Backward numbers on clocks suggest a blurred line between dreams and waking hours. Sinister shapes form between household fixtures when approached from just the right angle. Even the architecture of the movie’s editing is unsettling. There are no real monsters or jump scares in The Night House, though, just a sense of creeping dread that Beth’s reality is betraying her, a feeling reinforced by her discovery of the titular night house — a secret property Owen was building in exact inverse design of the one they share. Stranger still are the odd pictures on his phone scattered between everyday snapshots — candid frames of lithe brunette women about Beth’s height and shape, would-be doppelgangers from a distance. What did Owen want with these women? What is the night house for? Will Beth be able to move on without knowing?The Invisible Man (2020), It Follows, and The Lighthouse. There’s one thing worth remembering, however: Rebecca Hall rules.