When we first meet upstate New York high school teacher Beth (Hall) she is lost in grief in the aftermath of her husband Owen’s (Evan Jonigkeit) sudden death. She’s angry, self-medicating with alcohol to dull the pain.
At night, alone in the beautiful lake house he built for them, she is tormented by ghostly visions. Bloody footprints appear, the stereo snaps on by itself to play “their song” and there are loud knocks at the door, but when she opens the door, there’s nobody there. During the daylight hours, she’s left with her grief and a nagging sense that Owen left behind as many secrets as he did memories.
Her friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) and neighbour Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) offer support, but the horrifying visions and aural experiences continue, pushing her to the edge. As she packs up his things, clothes, books, the compiled ephemera of a life, she uncovers evidence that Owen had a hidden life involving the occult and a number of women who look remarkably like Beth.
“The Night House” is a gothic psychological horror film anchored by Hall’s remarkable performance. She turns the idea of the grieving widow on its head, playing Beth as indignant and unsympathetic. As she cycles through the stages of grief, focusing on the anger, it’s gut wrenching. An early scene with the mother of one of her students complaining about her son’s poor grade is brutal in its honesty laid bare. She is an open wound and Hall commits to the edgier aspects of the character, allowing the viewer a window into Beth’s world.
Director David Bruckner builds plenty of atmosphere and a sense of the strange that keeps the off-kilter story afloat despite the script’s leaps of logic. As Beth’s inner turmoil escalates the story adds in too many elements that don’t go anywhere like a second house in the woods and Beth’s doppelganger. As the script becomes more and more convoluted the intensity built in the film’s first half dissipates.
“The Night House” is a provocative look at grief with a great lead performance but is undone by a drawn-out approach to the story.