The scares land like blows and the eeriness is pervasive in “The Night House,” David Bruckner’s hyper-focused, unnervingly sure follow-up to his 2018 wilderness frightener, “The Ritual.”
Fully owning every one of her scenes, Rebecca Hall plays Beth, a New York schoolteacher whose husband of 14 years, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), has just taken his own life. Now Beth wanders around the modernist lakeshore home Owen built, guzzling brandy and tortured by the mystery of his death. The only darkness in their marriage, she confesses to her best friend (Sarah Goldberg) and co-workers, was hers, the result of a traumatic experience years before.
From among Owen’s things, baffling clues emerge. A creepy suicide note; architectural drawings that appear to reverse the layout of their home; pictures of strange women on his phone, all resembling Beth. Petrifying sights and sounds haunt her nights and inchoate shadows hover around her. A kind neighbor (Vondie Curtis-Hall) tries to help, but it’s clear he can’t see the bloody footprints straggling from the couple’s rowboat and heading toward the house.
As the screenplay teases natural explanations for these sinister goings-on — Extreme grief? Nightmares? Mental illness? — Bruckner maintains a death grip on the film’s mood while his cinematographer, Elisha Christian, turns the home’s reflective surfaces into shape-shifting puzzle pieces. The ending is the least daring of the possible options; but Hall is spectacular, flinty and fraying in a role that leaves her often alone and, in one chilling scene, requires her to contort in disquieting ways. As Beth’s skin undulates to an unseen touch and her throat arcs alarmingly backward, Hall shows us a woman for whom terror and desire have become one.
The Night House
Rated R for buried bodies and bumps in the night. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. In theaters.
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