[Screen It]


(2021) (Rebecca Hall, Sara Goldberg) (R)

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Horror: A teacher must contend with creepy occurrences at her lakefront house following her husband's suicide.

Beth (REBECCA HALL) is a schoolteacher whose architect husband, Owen (EVAN JONIGKEIT), has just killed himself, leaving only a cryptic note as the explanation behind his act. Her co-worker and best friend, Claire (SARA GOLDBERG), is obviously concerned about Beth as is her widowed neighbor, Mel (VONDIE CURTIS HALL). Still in shock and grief, Beth begins to experience weird things at night in her remote lakefront house, including signs that perhaps Owen's spirit is visiting her.

As she tries to understand what's occurring and while going through his belongings, she soon learns that she didn't know her husband as well as she thought. That includes several cryptic notes in his architectural plans, as well as photos on his phone of women who look quite like Beth, including bookstore employee Madelyne (STACY MARTIN). As the apparent nighttime hauntings increase in intensity, Beth begins to question both her sanity and how well she thought she knew her husband.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10

A common and welcome refrain on social media nowadays -- at least from those who are enlightened and empathetic -- is that you never know what someone else might be going through, be that physically and/or mentally.

That's often in response to bullies and armchair psychologists who negatively comment on those who admit or in certain situations have the press report that they're suffering from any number of mental issues.

And that's taken to an entirely different level when someone takes their own life and the heartless call them selfish, or cowards, or any other number of other nearsighted callous comments. All while those they left behind try to figure out why and pick up the pieces of their suddenly shattered lives.

That's the plot and underlying theme of the uber-effective "The Night House" where when we first meet Beth (a terrific Rebecca Hall), she's still reeling from the very recent and completely unexpected suicide of her architect husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). She's a schoolteacher who decides to go back to work and gets support from her coworker and friend, Claire (Sarah Goldberg), but literally drowns her sorrow, grief, pain, and anger in alcohol.

All of which makes her an unreliable protagonist in this psychological horror offering from scribes Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski and director David Bruckner. When things start going bump at night -- and only once the sun has set on Beth's lakefront home -- we're left in a nebulous quandary. Is the pounding on the door, the stereo turning on by itself, text messages seemingly from Owen, and so on are the result of her grief and PTSD, the booze, Owen's spirit, or the fact that back in high school she was clinically dead for a few minutes following a car crash.

The latter left her believing that there's nothing after death, but with each repeated and seemingly supernatural occurrence, she begins to question her earlier stance, along with wondering if she truly knew her husband.

That comes into play when she starts digging through his belongings -- in the middle of angrily throwing some of them out -- when she uncovers cryptic messages on his architectural drawings, books about the occult and how to deal with that, and pictures on his phone and computer of women who look remarkably like her.

What's remarkable about the film -- especially considering it contains many of the seemingly obligatory tropes of the horror genre -- is how well it works in inducing goosebumps, jump scares, and making us care about the protagonist.

I've seen a lot of horror flicks, and most are mediocre at best for those of us who've seen every storytelling and cinematic trick in the book. Yet, I found this offering unsettling, spooky, and downright scary at times, all as those in front of and behind the camera kept me fully engaged while waiting for the eventual revelation of what's really occurring.

And that big reveal has quite the unnerving kick to it, especially as related to those suffering from a specific type of mental illness. Simply put, if you like well-told horror flicks that work both on the surface and in getting under your skin, you can't ask for much better than a trip to "The Night House." The film rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 15, 2021 / Posted August 20, 2021

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