Review: The Night House is the best of pandemic cinema

Rebecca Hall plays Beth in The Night House, a newly widowed woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

20th Century Studios / Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

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  • The night house
  • Realized by David Bruckner
  • Scenario Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski
  • Featuring Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin
  • Classification R
  • Duration 107 minutes
  • Available August 20 at the cinema

During the most crucial summer for studio releases in movie history, The night house (coming to a Fox Searchlight movie theater near you) is one thing Hollywood doesn’t do anymore: a terrifying and moving horror film for adults, reminiscent of a time when a movie like What is below could be a summer blockbuster. It’s a showcase for exemplary actress Rebecca Hall, whose unforgettable face transmits the foundations of terror through the hollow crevices of her cheekbones and dark eyes, and dares to start her first 10 minutes in near silence. As director David Bruckner slowly goes through wads of soggy Kleenex and a pot forced on Hall by a well-meaning neighbor, you know death has come to town.

When Hall’s protagonist (Beth, a teacher) finally speaks up, she goes out for a drink with her colleagues (including her best friend Claire, played by a formidable Sarah Goldberg, from Barry Fame). Against their remonstrances, she pulls out a bloodstained envelope from her purse and begins reading her late husband’s suicide note, daring her audience to remain captive.

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Beth is a newly widowed woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, determined to understand why her gentle and devoted husband committed such a traumatic act. She’s a hot mess and doesn’t care who knows. Sitting dead-eyed at a desk during her office hours, an angry mother demands to know why her son received a C. Beth instantly outclasses the student in B and tells the parent that she was concerned that her husband shoots himself in the head. . Actresses rarely have the opportunity to be so bitter and gain our empathy instead.

The film’s title comes from Beth’s insistence on staying at the Modernist farmhouse built by her late husband Owen (played by Evan Jonigkeit in dark flashbacks and voiceovers), until he starts responding to her. The couple’s song (atmospheric indie rock anthem “The Cavalry Cross” by Richard and Linda Thompson) flickers over the stereo at unexpected times, and soon Owen begins to communicate from beyond the grave, tracing words across the hazy windows. windows and squeezing her out in the evening. As Beth begins to sleepwalking through the dark and treacherous woods surrounding her property, she begins to see surreal visions that help her gather disturbing information. It is possible that Owen had an affair just before his death, or even worse: engaging in dark magic.

The title of the film comes from Beth’s insistence on staying at the Modernist farmhouse built by her late husband Owen until he starts answering her.

20th Century Studios / Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Hall’s incredible performance gives The night house a weight and a gaze that far exceeds its flint principle, which can sometimes turn cliché (see: the old black gardener who is only there to urge Beth to “stay away from this place”, a find from old textbooks occults in a secret room). While women in movies have gone mad over demonic possession ever since Repulsion, Hall has a cerebral spirit and courage that helps her character stay grounded at all times, even when the actress is loaded with insane playfulness, like kissing her late husband’s ghost. As she guiltily goes through Owen’s phone for answers, stumbling over a barrage of hidden images of women who look like her, it’s a dizzying pleasure to see Hall’s face contorting through all the steps. of the Kübler-Ross model.

Although Hall rarely has scenes with more than one person and is often seen responding to walls and apparitions, The night house remains pandemic cinema reduced to its best. It’s elegantly filmed and well-constructed, drawing on a haunting climatic sequence that might burn your eyes. Our female role is pushed to its breaking point, but not sexually exploited or tortured, and remains a complete and complex human being. In an era when algorithmic streaming has reduced horror movies to their most stereotypical, Brucker’s direction is happy to prove that a gripping mystery and a formidable star can be enough to incite true psychological depths of terror. It’s a pleasure to see how The night house leaves breadcrumbs instead of clubbing you on the head, as you sink into his terrifying trance. This is an accommodation that you will want to book.

In the interest of consistency across all critical critics, The Globe has removed its star rating system in film and theater to align with the coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, Works of Excellence will be noted with a Critics’ Choice designation throughout the cover. (TV reviews, usually based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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