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‘The Night House’ Is Smart, Stylish, and Terrifying [The Overlooked Motel]

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The Night House

Welcome to The Overlooked Motel, a place where under-seen and unappreciated films are given their moment in the spotlight. I hope you enjoy your stay here and find the accommodations to be suitable. Now, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable. I have some misbehaving guests to ‘correct.’ 

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Today I am singing the praises of David Bruckner’s The Night House. This phenomenal film got lost in the shuffle during the COVID pandemic. The picture bowed around the time theaters were reopening. But people hadn’t returned to cinemas in full force by 2021. The Night House made a paltry $7 million domestically and a little over $15 million globally. I know the flick had a moment with hardcore Horror fans and even paved the way for Bruckner to helm the Hellraiser reboot for Hulu. But I am convinced the film deserves more recognition than it gets. The Night House is a nuanced meditation on the destructive nature of unprocessed trauma and features a dynamite performance from a complex lead character. 

The Night House follows Beth (Rebecca Hall), a woman grieving the unforeseen loss of her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). As she searches for answers regarding Owen’s suicide, Beth uncovers an inverted carbon copy of the home she and her late husband shared. The mysterious dwelling poses more questions than answers, prompting Beth to question everything she thought she knew. 

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Rebecca Hall singlehandedly carries the film on her shoulders. Beth is the only character onscreen for extended periods of time. There are stretches with very little dialogue, but she makes for great company. Her performance is committed and realistic, making her a captivating screen presence.   

Hall is adept at conveying the complexities of her character’s fragile emotional state. She’s angry, she’s depressed, she’s regretful, she feels betrayed. And that’s just scratching the surface. When anyone asks, she is quick to try to convince them she’s fine, change the subject, make a joke, or deflect. She even returns to work just a few days after Owen takes his life. But one need not be an expert to see that Beth is masking a profound level of grief she doesn’t have the words to express or the desire to face.  

The film separates itself from run-of-the-mill grief porn by doing more than the monster as a metaphor trope popularized in the wake of Hereditary. Screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski seem more interested in speaking about the perils of unprocessed trauma. Beth tells her friends she’s fine and tells herself the same. But the fact of the matter is that she isn’t fine and her insistence that she’s ok is standing in the way of the healing process. 

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We soon learn that Beth is quick to anger. But her rage shouldn’t be taken at face value. Sometimes it’s easier to lash out than it is to allow oneself to be vulnerable. But only when we get in touch with our darkest thoughts and inner turmoil can we truly begin to heal.  

The Night House touches on some heavy subject matter beyond grief. For instance, the fear of mortality and the sneaking suspicion that there is no afterlife. Those themes are explored intelligently here and serve to make Beth’s plight universally relatable. Even the most devout in their faith have surely wondered what if? And anyone who doesn’t subscribe to a religious denomination is likely to find her quandary all too familiar.    

Bruckner positions the heavy themes explored within alongside a muted, dreary color palette. The picture appears outwardly very much like Beth feels inwardly. Moreover, the set design has a sterility that adds to the cold and sinister aesthetic. 

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In addition to astute commentary on loss and corresponding visuals, the film also contains a number of shockingly effective jump scares. Even rewatching the picture for the second time, I lost my mind on a couple of occasions. In one particular scene, Bruckner frames and lights the shot so that an entity that suddenly appears seems to materialize out of nowhere. The sequence in question works especially well because it follows the appearance and subsequent disappearance of two other figures. So, the viewer is likely to assume the coast is clear until they realize it absolutely is not. 

Even the scenes that don’t serve up a proper scare read as foreboding and ominous. There’s an unhinged quality to the film that mirrors Beth’s unpredictable behavior, seeming to suggest anything might well happen. There’s also a surreal and dreamlike quality to the proceedings that makes it difficult to discern the dream realm from the waking world. 

At its core, The Night House is a phenomenal film that does more than merely remind us that grief is powerful and must be faced head-on. If you are game to check the flick out, you can find it available as a digital rental and on physical media. 

That’s all for this installment of The Overlooked Motel. If you’d like to chat more about under-seen and underrated films, feel free to hit me up with your thoughts on TwitterThreads, or Instagram

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