Sunday, 17 October 2021

The Night House


The House By
The Symmetry

The Night House
USA/UK 2020
Directed by David Bruckner
Walt Disney

Warning: Some mild spoilers.

The Night House is an interesting film and I almost had a really great time with it. I say almost because, like the plot development of the dream world depicted in certain moments in the film, it’s very much a game of two halves. I’ll get to that in a while but let me tell you some of the plot set up and the good stuff first.

Well, for starters, it’s got one of my favourite modern actresses playing the lead protagonist, Rebecca Hall (from amazing movies like The Awakening, reviewed here and Professor Marston And The Wonder Women, reviewed here) as Beth. And she really is fantastic in this (isn’t she always, even in lesser movies like Iron Man 2). The film starts when she returns to her lake house, after her husband’s funeral. Her husband, who designed and built the house, has shot himself in a boat in the lake with no inclination that he had suicidal tendencies and Beth, a local school teacher, is left to deal with her grief. There are a few other characters in the film such as her best friend Claire, played by Sarah Goldberg... but the majority of the film is just Beth dealing with her grief and then being caught up in weird events when she is regularly awoken by a presence she believes is her dead husband.

And all that stuff is great. There are a few good jump scares to it although, admittedly, when it does try this one too many times too often, such as a shot following Beth dozing off while laying on Claire’s knee (I don’t think it was supposed to be a reference to Éric Rohmer), the scares do start getting more predictable and, therefore, not scary, it has to be said. But the moody atmosphere is kept going throughout and I’m pleased to say, in terms of the supernatural occurrences in the film, the movie delivers the goods and doesn’t cop out when it comes to escalating the degrees and machinations of the antagonistic phenomena.

Also, Rebecca Hall really does carry the movie for a lot of the time. In her interactions with the occasional character that crops up, such as a woman she finds her husband may have had an affair with (it’s more complicated than that), Beth is written as a very sharp, stand offish, confrontational and smart woman and, yeah, that’s tailor made for an intelligent actress like Hall, for sure. And great swathes of the movie are just her on her own with barely any dialogue, so you need someone like her in this kind of movie.

The film is loaded with beautiful shot compositions too. The director uses very clear vertical sections and splits to delineate different areas of the house and even uses a shot I’d seen done in a new movie a few weeks before, where Beth’s head is small in the shot and framed within a rectangle of a grid of windows, as we look in at her from outside the house. It turns out, the symmetry of the compositions and the camera movements around those little vertical splits are very much a part of the story and there is a really neat trick where the director uses the negative shape of a column (think of the old candlestick illusion of the two faces in profile), which looks like a man’s face, to surprise the audience when the face made out of the negative space looks around at Beth. Unfortunately, the director seems so pleased with this shot that he repeats the trick a fair few times after that and it loses its impact very quickly.

The real problem is the bizarre mix of over sharing the various mysteries of the house... it’s ‘backwards’ twin house, some kind of occult rituals, Beth’s back story containing a ‘dead for four minutes’ experience, a book on Caerdroia (a term for a Welsh turf maze which I think is supposed to be a metaphor for the construction of the house itself) and various ghost women running to the lake... and giving the audience too many elements to process without really explaining the relevance of a lot of them. Now I know the ‘secret’ at the heart of the mystery, for example, I am still left scratching my head about the relevance of a lot of the plot elements found in the movie. It feels, by the last reel, vaguely unsatisfying and like the writers just let it all go and spoiled all that good build up. I must confess that, once I’d realised the film was over, I said to myself that I must read the novel this film is obviously based on to find out the real significance of all the occult jigsaw puzzle pieces scattered throughout... only to find out that it’s not even based on a book and is an original screenplay. So, yeah, I really didn’t understand how a lot of these things fit in and I’m not usually that slow on the uptake in most movies.

So, what else can I say about The Night House other than it has a gorgeous score by Ben Lovett which I wish had gotten a proper CD release? If you’re a big Rebecca Hall fan then definitely take a look at this one as she’s always an interesting actress to watch. If you’re a horror fan... I suspect this wasn’t made with you in mind because it’s not going to scare you much, I would think. If you’re not normally a watcher of the genre, then you may get something out of this one and it’s probably a good, light introduction to the supernatural, if you have a hankering to try out something like that. I probably won’t be watching this one again anytime soon and I just wish someone would tap Rebecca Hall to make a proper sequel to The Awakening at some point in the near future, to be honest.

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