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The Night House

Year: 2020
Production Co: Anton
Studio: Searchlight
Director: Daniel Bruckner
Writer: Ben Collins/Luke Piotrowski
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Evan Jonigkeit

I was incredibly taken by the premise when I saw the trailer for this movie. A bereaved woman keeps seeing signs that her dead husband is trying to contact her from beyond, and in more than just a ghost story, she discovers a house identical to theirs on the other side of the lake they live beside where everything is apparently reversed.

I was fascinated. Is she moving through multiverses (since they're so popular right now)? Is she glimpsing heaven or hell? Is she actually the ghost haunting the living? As the movie piled one clue on top of another, I was looking forward to learning what it was actually all about.

What a disappointment. It does tell you in the end, but the story is kind of stupid. The only real shock I got was when I looked up its Rotten Tomatoes score, expecting it to be in the mid 40s or so. But 87 percent?!? I can only attribute such critical praise to the aesthetic of the film, because the story certainly doesn't warrant it.

Rebecca Hall is Beth, who's trying to get over losing her architect husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) after his violent suicide and get back to some semblance of her life as a teacher, but something won't let her. She finds a sketchbook in Evan's papers while she's clearing them out that contains designs for the very house they built together, only in reverse. She sees a photo of a woman who looks remarkably similar to her on his phone and suspects him of having an affair.

But other stuff she discovers isn't so everyday. She sees bloody footprints leading down to the dock and rowboat where Evan went out onto the lake to shoot himself in the head. She finds herself standing amid a clutch of women, terrified, fleeing through the forest around her to leap over the wall to the lake below and disappear.

In one of the coolest effects in the film, certain places she stands in the house give her the perspective of a figure created by the outlines of objects and walls around her, and to her shock, the outline moves as if the figure's looking at her.

Things get more terrifying and the deeper Beth digs, the weirder it gets. Her neighbour admits he saw Owen taking young women off into the woods. She finds the reversed house across the lake, half built and containing some weird wood-cared effigy. It's all connected to/explained by a throwaway story Beth has told co-workers over drinks early on, that she was in a car accident years before and died for four minutes before coming back.

I don't know what would have made the reasoning behind the other women, reverse house and her husband's secretive behaviour better, but it reminded me of some story about an ancient Celtic or Native American curse and seemed to drag the whole movie into slightly silly territory, away from the high class artistic interpretation Hall's performance had given it until then.

Either way it should have been more satisfying than this, and the fact that the horror mood, acting and script were so well executed only heightens the disappointment the plot leaves you with.

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