David Bruckner’s “The Night House” is a major bummer, yet another film that teases far more than it delivers and wastes the enormous talent of Rebecca Hall.
When we meet Beth (played by Hall), she’s grieving the suicide of her husband and well past caring what others think of her inability to keep it together. While meeting the parent of a student who she gave a C grade, Beth loses her patience, no longer resorting to verbal niceties and just gives the kid the grade she wants (it’s a great scene).
While staying at her late husband’s home by the lake, Beth begins to suspect the place is haunted, though there are books, pictures and other clues left behind that suggest something even wilder.
“The Night House” plays like an odd blend of the sudsy “The Lake House” and the recent “The Invisible Man.” After a dramatically strong start, it resorts to jump scares and keeps delaying the big reveal. By the third sleepless night, walk through the woods, studying the mysterious photograph and sudden blaring of the stereo, I was more than ready to get to the punchline.
Instead, this drawn out and redundant thriller keeps putting us on, waiting far too long to reach its underwhelming conclusion.
I like that there’s an effort to explore the effects that sleep paralysis and depression have on someone struggling with grief, though the cheap thrills resonate more than the psychological ramifications. Come to think of it, the ending, with its naked ghosts, red lighting and double whammy plotline, is so muddled, I’m not entirely sure how much of what we see is “real.”
More importantly, I don’t really care and doubt most audiences will give this much thought when it’s over.
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Hall is the real deal, a talented actress with a striking presence and an adventurous taste in roles. She was terrific in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “The Town,” “The Gift” and the harrowing “Christine.” Unfortunately, you probably know her as the female lead in this year’s “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which is like being the opening act for The Rolling Stones (that Hall even registers in that movie says a lot).
She’s also been frequently misused, in films ranging from “Transcendence” and “The BFG.” Hall was previously the lead in another supernatural drama, “The Awakening” (2011) in which, like her latest work, she’s the best thing about it.
It’s nice seeing Sarah Goldberg, so good on the HBO series “Barry,” shine in a supporting role as Beth’s best friend. The always-welcome Vondie Curtis-Hall, a terrific character actor who survived directing “Glitter” (2001), invests more to his character here than the screenwriters did.
Otherwise, this is Hall’s show from first scene to last. Considering how good she is, I wish this were a better vehicle.
FAST FACT: Rebecca Hall got an early taste for acting when her dad, a theatrical director, cast his 12-year-old daughter in an adaptation of “The Camomile Lawn.”
Bruckner made his mark in low budget genre efforts, like the well regarded “The Signal” (2007) and the unforgettable “Amateur Night” portion of “V/H/S” (2012). His first big budget film is polished and offers good production values but doesn’t hit as hard as it should.
Pacing is a major culprit as to why this underwhelms, but the story itself isn’t as novel or emotionally charged as it could have been. Hall digs deep but this comes across more as a middle of the road, overly familiar supernatural thriller than anything resembling a game changer.
Just compare this to last year’s devastating “Relic,” the Emily Mortimer-led ghost story about three generations of women struggling with aging; it was one of last year’s best films and has a final scene that reduces most audiences to tears.
“The Night House,” on the other hand, showcases a director and actress who can only do so much with second tier material.