One of the best things about horror is how it is able to rely on old tropes without feeling stale. This is a genre that is able to fall back on predictable jump scares and twists without losing credibility. A great example is the ghost story. Tales about the dead coming back to visit the living are as old as time and yet they remain popular.
The Night House is a 2020 horror movie that revisits the classic ghost story. It also has something of a haunted house tale and even touches on the descent into madness. Rebecca Hall stars as Beth whose husband Owen has just passed away. As she tries to deal with his unexpected passing, she also begins to receive visits at night. Is Beth still coping with her loss or is it something far more sinister?
Hall is fabulous as Beth. The recent widow goes through a variety of emotions over the course of the movie. Naturally, there is pain over her recent loss, but the script calls for much more. Beth is callous, cruel, angry, and understanding. The Night House is not just about a women stricken with grief overcoming loss. It is about the complete coping process which involves many differing types of feelings. It wold seem over the top in the hands of another actress, but Hall is perfect in the role.
Director David Bruckner also does a great job of making his film convey fear. Even the most accepted jump scares come with asterisk. Yes, they manage to frighten, but there is a satisfaction that comes along with an expectation that has been fulfilled. The truly great ones (Mulholland Drive) come out of nowhere, scare the viewer, and leave them feeling a little sick.
The Night House many not reinvent the jump scare, but it definitely takes it in new directions. There is a fantastic jump scare early on that is an example of slightly tweaking the proven formula. As the story progresses, these moments become more involved and creative. There are some horror standards (this will probably end up being one of the loudest movies of the year), but Bruckner never overplays his hand. Even the most familiar scares will impress audiences.
Bruckner does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere for his movie. Even in wide open spaces in the broad daylight, the story has a constant sense of foreboding. There is great use of light and shadows making it seem as if there is always something in the background. The Night House does not settle with just scaring the audience. The film does a fantastic job of instilling paranoia.
The score from Ben Lovett is very effective. Even for a horror movie, sound plays a very important role in The Night House. Again, it is not just about building fear in the audience. A song from the couple’s wedding is eerie. Many times in the genre, music is used to warn of impending danger. Lovett uses his score to effectively create discomfort.
The Night House succeeds by not straying far from horror formulas. The first part of the movie takes its time in a nice build that culminates in a final act that payoffs many of the ideas visited early on. Hall is fantastic while the story is enthralling. The Night House is further proof there is room for slower and more thoughtful horror movies.