The Night House, the new feature film from director David Bruckner (The Ritual) is, at its most simple, a movie about grief. Grief is not a foreign subject to the horror genre, a fact which is becoming more true in recent years with movies like Midsommar and Mandy placing grief front and centre. The Night House after all, follows Beth (Rebecca Hall) as she recovers from her husband’s unexpected suicide; it has all the trappings of a ghost story — a recent widow, a mostly empty house, strange happenings. But much like the titular house, The Night House is so much more than what it seems.
Rebecca Hall is brilliant the entire time, feeling reminiscent of Toni Collette in Hereditary. She carries the entire film which is by design. This is Beth’s story, her recovery in the face of tragedy. As a result, Beth is alone for most of the movie as she attempts to uncover the mystery of just who her late husband (Evan Jonigkeit) really was. It’s an uncomfortable film at times made more so by Hall’s quiet but intense portrayal of a grieving widow struggling with the realization that she didn’t really know her husband in the first place and that he was not who he seemed in more than just the typical “cheating husband” or “husband hiding a dark secret” ways. Like the hints of a denser, more complicated mythology that we see scattered throughout the film, Owen’s secret is more complicated than either of those options.
Beth’s realization of her lack of awareness is compounded by the scenes in which she views her husband’s secret life from the outside, watching the impressions of previous nights unfolding all at once from outside of a mirrored version of the lake house which she has been living in alone since her husband’s death. There’s both an eeriness and a deep sadness to it. It’s difficult not to mourn for the lack of awareness Beth is losing as she uncovers the mystery. It’s a terrible thing to love someone and to find out that you didn’t know them at all. Thankfully most of us don’t have the “joy” of finding out that our loved ones are actually dark forces intent on killing us who have caused our loved ones to kill women with similar appearances to us in order to trick the spirit into being appeased.
Parts of The Night House hint at a deeper mythology than what is textually there; Beth finds books on the occult and a book on caerdroia, Welsh turf mazes. While they weren’t used for these purposes in real life, the prop book features a briefly visible paragraph that details that, within the fictional setting of the film, caerdroia were used to confuse and/or weaken dark forces and distract them with false sacrifices. I’m sure you can connect the dots between this and the last sentence of the previous paragraph. But caerdroia are not where the occult aspects of The Night House end; at one point in the movie, Beth finds a voodoo doll in the mirror house. The doll in question is modeled after a real voodoo doll that was found in Egypt and is now held in the Louvre. I’ve seen it in person and I promise you it is just as creepy as the movie’s version of it. Not much is said about the doll beyond the fact that Owen had one of his would-be victims hold it before he attempted to kill her.
A final point before we conclude our brief dive into the occult aspects of The Night House. The book on caerdroia contains on one of the end papers a seal from the Ars Goetia, one of the five books in the Lesser Key of Solomon, an anonymous grimoire on demonology. The Ars Goetia is essentially a guide to summoning demons; all of the usual suspects are in there, Baal, Paimon, Asmodeus. You name it and it is probably in there. The demon of most import to this entire tangent is Andras, a Great Marquis of Hell who sows discord among people. He’s pretty cool for a demon, rides a wolf, carries a sword, has the head of an owl and the body of a winged angel. His seal appears in the book that Beth finds and while he’s never mentioned by name (and God was I waiting for that moment), it’s still unlikely that the appearance of his seal is a coincidence when one considers all of the other work that was put into the occult aspects of the film. Again, feel free to discount this as meaning nothing and just being me going off on a tangent about one of the weird things I happen to know a lot about.
Like Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor and many other recent horror movies, The Night House is a quiet character-driven story that goes off the rails in the last fifteen or so minutes. While I tend to love when a movie does that I felt a bit of fatigue with that trend while watching it. The ending here works and it does so well but it’s impossible for me not to feel that the other shoe is going to drop soon and I will find myself completely tired of these slow horror movies that devolve into chaos just before the end credits roll. In all genres the shiny new concept that becomes a hit ends up driven into the ground, forced down the throats of viewers until eventually we’ve had enough and we just want it to end. I find it highly likely that if the trend continues at the pace it’s been going we will very soon see the fatigue set in to a wider extent. But despite the creeping fatigue I felt from what is steadily becoming an overused concept in horror, The Night House was really good. It was well-done with a creepy atmosphere free from all but one (well-done and well-earned) jumpscare and a stellar performance from Rebecca Hall at it’s centre.