There’s something about Rebecca Hall and grief that, as morbid as it sounds, is a match made in heaven. In 2016, the actress absolutely stunned in Christine, the tense and gripping biopic about Christine Chubbuck, an ill-fated news anchor who shot herself live on air. In that performance, Hall was able to tap into something that few actors truly can: An ability to manifest all stages of mourning into one deeply human and relatable package. Deeper still, she was able to make those impulses her own and find the specificity in grief, which manifested as a perfect mix of herself and the real person she was embodying. In Christine, Hall expertly creates a mirror image of Chubbuck as she grieved the person she hoped to become, the life she hoped to live and the amalgamation of what a working woman was supposed to be. If Christine was Hall’s magnum opus, then her work as Beth in The Night House is the role’s spiritual sibling.
In the haunted house thriller, Beth is left reeling from the unexpected death of her husband (Evan Jonigkeit) in the home he built for her. Before long, she starts experiencing menacing nightmares and even seeing ghostly apparitions during the day. Soon, the torment forces her to dig deeper into her husband’s life and the things she thought she knew about him—which gives way to a terrifying secret that blossoms in the belly of her grief.
While it’s easy to compare Hall’s breathtaking performance in this picture with another equally effective turn from her past, I more often found myself juxtaposing her strong and nearly crazy lead with that of the great Isabelle Adjani. The story of Possession, which is perhaps Adjani’s greatest cinematic achievement, mirrors The Night House in the same way the film’s home reflects the insanity within. Adjani’s Anna is the one running in Possession, running from her husband and her life and dipping her toe into the mad waters. In director David Bruckner’s piece, Hall’s Beth has taken the place of Mark, Anna’s husband. The former spy (played with desperation by Sam Neill) will stop at nothing to figure out what is at the heart of his wife’s decision to divorce him—a kind of death that, in a way, feels like that of Beth’s husband. The need to know and the need to get away are, in essence, polar opposites, but Adjani and Hall’s performances cement these two impulses as a kindred mesh of the minds. The two married couples of these films exist in a mirror and it is hard not to see Hall’s performance as a descendant of Adjani’s in some of the actress’ boldest moments.
It’s true that Hall’s central performance ends up cracking the mirror into a million little reflective pieces in many different ways; the impact of her performance was never in question. It drives the film through its entire runtime—but it’s clear that the reason for that is because something has to. While the overarching concept and themes of this film are strong, the execution leaves something to be desired at several points throughout the movie. It’s hard to decipher whether the direction or the writing is entirely to blame, but at the end of the day, there is fault in both.
The script spends the majority of the movie building to a climax where one set of rules and circumstances has been set up, but a separate set of conditions arise at nearly the last moment which, in turn, totally shakes up the movie you thought you were watching the whole time. That approach isn’t always bad. In fact, a lot of films do that type of bait-and-switch incredibly well. The issue here is that there wasn’t exactly enough foreshadowing to pull off what co-writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski were going for. I never want things to be obvious, but I need to be able to go back upon future viewings and find the clues. In this film, there is one essential clue—but it just isn’t enough. However, it is important to note that, aside from Hall’s killer execution, the film’s visual effects and set design aid in getting the haunting tone just right. Without those elements, it’s possible Hall’s work may have fallen a bit flat considering the writing flaws. You’ve probably seen the trailer by now; you know the harrowing moments I speak of, and they are entirely the result of the brilliance of those two teams.
Hall’s work makes this horror-thriller worth seeing, but I don’t think it’s going to become the staple that folks were hoping for when the trailer arrived. It’s easy (relatively speaking) to make a convincing and exciting trailer for a film. It’s a whole other thing to craft a movie that works for its entirety and peppers those epic trailer moments throughout in such a way that leaves you dying to find the next piece of candy on the trail toward the center of the plot. It’s a fun flick and some may still be drawn into The Night House’s mystery, but the film—and everyone at the heart of its conception—have Hall to thank for that.
Director: David Bruckner
Writers: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Evan Jonigkeit
Release Date: August 20, 2021
Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer with bylines at Life & Style, In Touch Weekly, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. She spends too much time thinking about One Direction and the leftover moments writing poetry, fiction and screenplays. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5pm ET only on KPISSFM. She tweets @nikonamerica.