New horror thriller “The Night House” gets much right in the first two acts. The film’s use of location in upstate New York is beautifully isolated, the color palette of natural earth tones seen throughout the film demonstrates its attention to aesthetics.
The selling point is underrated actress Rebecca Hall, who should have gotten Oscar nominations for her work in “The Town,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and her tour de force performance in “Christine.”
Hall, also a producer on “The Night House,” does well to keep the audience invested for much of the film where it’s just her on screen rummaging through her own house with little dialogue. Director David Bruckner leans on jump scares with loud music and quick cuts more often than is necessary but less than your average horror flick.
Following the suicide of her husband of 14 years, Beth (Hall) is devastated and at a loss as to how to move on. A local teacher in upstate New York, living in a house her husband built by the lake, she finds herself in a mausoleum with all of their belongings. His cryptic note gives little explanation for his final act, but the more she digs through his laptop, books and cell phone, she begins to wonder if she knew her husband at all.
That’s when strange things begin to happen around the house — music playing in the middle of the night, knocks at the door and a presence that compels her to seek more answers than she has been given.
Hall’s Beth is a Sidney Prescott-type character who isn’t afraid to face whatever is tormenting her. She’s the woman who will grab a flashlight and go outside in the middle of the night — determination over fear. This type of character allows the film at least the impression of moving forward toward answers to the mystery.
Where “The Night House” fails is sticking the landing in the third act. Less is certainly more in Brucker’s film, watching Hall play through the emotions, and the setup is far more intense than the lackluster reveal. “The Night House” has added pressure to side step similarities with blockbuster “The Invisible Man,” which it does for the most part.
The third act belittles the work Hall has done with the character, and the production design touches that seemed so important to begin with are abandoned. Screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski needed a bit more inspiration for the ending, or perhaps the script was always weak and Hall’s work just elevates it to a place it was never intended to be.
Debuting at Sundance earlier this year, it’s a bit easier to see how a film like this might be overly praised in a setting that’s short on genre films. When you release “The Night House” into a market with more options, however, it appears less potent.
Final Thought: Actress Rebecca Hall is the reason to see “The Night House,” but the ending is a reason to forget it.