The Night House
This slow burn horror film is a rewarding hidden gem
Slow burn horror is something of an acquired taste. For many, the simple thrill of a jump-scare and gore is enough to satisfy their terror needs; thus, when a film asks for more patience and embarks on a character study, it can prove to repulse said viewers. However, this type of horror is the most rewarding, having the aura and feel of the film follow you long after the credits have rolled. This was certainly the case with the likes of The Babadook (2014), The Witch (2015), or even Hereditary (2018), but such films struggled to grasp a following at the box office; precisely because it bucked the normal horror trends of the day. The newest slow burn horror that is likely to be criminally underseen is The Night House (2020).
The Night House follows schoolteacher Beth (Rebecca Hall) as she deals with the aftermath of her husband, Owen’s (Evan Jonigkeit) suicide. Beth continues to reside in the lake house that Owen built, and starts to notice a strange presence, which she struggles place between reality or her dreams.
The Night House is directed by David Bruckner who has been cornering himself in the horror genre for the past few years. However, the likes of The Ritual (2017) and V/H/S (2012) felt very derivative and left much to be desired. However, The Night House feels like a liberation in terms of Bruckner and his style. The discarding of certain horror cliches and added patience allows Bruckner to dig deeper into creating atmosphere and character work. Bruckner is able to craft slow build-ups for his scares, which pay off to great effect. He also doesn’t go overboard in showing too much of the horror, choosing vague shapes and background movements to do the work for him. This causes a paranoia to creep up on viewers, as they become increasingly tense and uneasy, scanning the background for any threats, even in the broad daylight.
The Night House also deepens its thematic explorations. It isn’t simply another cheap horror film looking to exploit loud sounds and fake blood for entertainment. Instead, Bruckner brings a rather dark and honest conversation surrounding grief, depression, and mental illness. These themes are key to the entire film, with their studies and trajectories superseding any easy scare or paranormal explanation. As with the best horror films, The Night House could easy pass off as a simple drama; the horror elements are simple manifestations of a character’s psychology. This was the case with The Shining (1980) as well as Rosemary’s Baby (1968); in fact, in those films, you struggle to tell if the paranormal happenings are real or simply a character’s imagination.
Rebecca Hall is sublime in The Night House, following a track record of spectacular performances in impressive, but criminally underseen films. No one saw her brilliant performance in Christine (2016), and the box office of The Night House seems to indicate a similar result. Hall has an ability to inhabit extremely dark characters and humanize their functionality. Her take on the spiraling character of Beth is tragic as well as a fascinating acting class. It only makes me more excited for her directing debut later this year with Passing (2021), as her grasp on performance arts is masterful.
In the end, The Night House was a wonderfully surprising horror film. It’s a narrative that demands patience and will turn off most mainstream horror viewers; yet it has a powerful reward for those that stick it out. The final act is absolutely gripping, with your dear writer having had trouble breathing out of fear. For those seeking a film that will haunt you for days afterwards, look no further.