Ready and eager for a good, hair-raising haunted-house thriller in the tradition of The Uninvited, I was looking forward to The Night House. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly unimaginative, largely unconvincing, often dull and always predictable example of the genre with few thrills and no surprises, and the only thing it raises is a surfeit of puzzling questions about why the wonderful actress Rebecca Hall can’t find a script to show off her abundant skills in a vehicle someone might remember. Her father is Sir Peter Hall, the former director of the National Theater in London. Her stepmother was Leslie Caron. Her training is impeccable. To call a routine horror flick like The Night House a waste of her time is a waste of mine.
After her husband Owen’s suicide, newly widowed Beth returns to the remote house he designed on a lake in upstate New York to relish happy memories of their life together, but instead of the peace she seeks, Beth is immediately plagued by a series of supernatural phenomena — knocking on the doors in the middle of night, the sound of gunshots, visions of her husband naked on the edge of the
THE NIGHT HOUSE ★★
Unanswered questions arise from the start. The lake house is too modern and too conventional to ever be haunted by a ghost, yet something is clearly giving it (and Beth) the creeps. After 14 years of blissful marriage, is it possible that she never knew Owen at all? Who is leaving bloody footprints on the boat deck where he killed himself? Why does the stereo blast suddenly at all hours of the night, waking her up when no friends or neighbors are around to convince her that she’s not going insane?
Instead of packing up, heading back to Manhattan and listing the house on the market, Beth snoops, sneaks and investigates further, uncovering dark forces and satanic symbols in every room. What is going on here? At the end of nearly two hours of waiting for something to happen, when the nervous director, David Bruckner, and clunky screenwriters, Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, at last make a feeble attempt to tell you, you may be too weary to care.
Rarely have I seen a movie in which simply everything demands clarification. What we get instead is an exhausting, overwrought performance by Rebecca Hall that passes the time valiantly. She gives Beth more depth and believability than the character deserves. Gritting her teeth, ripping at her hair and levitating from floor to ceiling, she gives the appearance of having an epileptic seizure. It’s over the top, but it’s the only thing you’ll remember about The Night House.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.