By John Mulderig | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Subtle, creative and mostly free of gore, “The Night House” (Searchlight) is a thinking person’s horror film ably sustained by a striking performance from Rebecca Hall in its lead role.
Those looking for a neat wrap-up, however, will find the script persistently elusive. Nor is it a suitable choice for those uncomfortable with entertaining unorthodox ideas about the afterlife, though these are merely flirted with, being ultimately left, like much else, unresolved.
Hall plays recent widow Beth. As the schoolteacher struggles to come to terms with her architect husband Owen’s (Evan Jonigkeit) gunshot suicide, a series of eerie experiences lead her to suspect that he was living a dark double life.
These include her discovery of the structure of the title, a reverse replica of the lake house Owen designed for them to live in which may or may not exist outside Beth’s imagination.
Despite her sometimes-tart personality, Beth gets sympathy from her best friend and faculty colleague Claire (Sarah Goldberg) and from kindly neighbor Mel (Vondie Curtis Hall), himself a widower. But she must ultimately confront the mystery on her own, trying to sort out reality from illusion.
Beth’s backstory includes a near-death experience during which, she avows, she encountered nothing, just an absolute void. While plot developments offer an alternative to this version of events, it’s one that involves a form of demonic persecution — and so hardly ranks as a cheerful option.
Still, together with screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, director David Bruckner avoids bloodshed in favor of menace. So, while their psychological thriller requires mature discernment, there’s nothing to debar most grown viewers from enjoying it.
The film contains occult themes, some grim but stylized violence, brief gruesome images, fleeting rear male nudity in a nonsexual context, a couple of profanities, about a half-dozen milder oaths, considerable rough language and a few crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.