BAXTER — Just how well do you really know someone you love?
That provocative question is the central conceit of “The Night House,” a moody, atmospheric horror film that eschews the visceral bloodshed and gore of slasher films for the slow burn of psychological terror.
A widow discovers her husband who died suddenly at their lake home he built had kept dark and disturbing secrets from her in the new release playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter.
Beth attempts to move on with her life while living alone in the house they shared before his unexpected death, but she is haunted by his memory and angered by his violent passing.
The school teacher is inconsolable in her depression despite the support of her coworkers, neighbors and friends, and instead turns to the bottle, which only makes things worse.
Beth comes across one day her husband’s blueprints for another home with a mirror image along with mysterious photos in his iPhone of women that look like her but who are not her.
Thoughts race through her mind as to what it could all mean and the more she rummages through his possessions, the more questions she has about the man she thought she knew.
A close friend of Beth’s tells her if the late husband was having an affair, it wouldn’t be all that shocking but rather a cliche. And Beth almost seeks comfort in the obvious explanation if true.
Actress Rebecca Hall portrays Beth as an intelligent and sympathetic character, a woman not prone to histrionics, which makes her slow descent into apparent madness tragic.
Beth begins to have visions in the house she cannot discount as merely dreams or flights of fancy. Whether those disturbing apparitions are born from her inconsolable grief or whether Beth is losing her already tenuous grip on her sanity, the movie audience can only wonder.
Beth’s obsession with her husband’s death may cause her own if she isn’t careful as she makes inquiries into the latter’s former activities, especially the unfinished house and the other women.
It’s been said one should not ask questions that one does not want to hear the answers to, but Beth is tenacious in attempting to find some meaning in her husband’s sudden passing.
The suspenseful and creepy film ratchets up the tension in increments that some horror fans may balk at, but the deliberate pacing of “The Night House” refreshingly does not resort to jump scares to elicit thrills from viewers more accustomed to blood splatter and dismemberment.
The R-rated movie had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last year, but the two-hour motion picture was only recently released theatrically.
Hall should be a familiar face to moviegoers even if her name is not a household name. The award-winning actress’ past acting credits include “The Prestige” from Christopher Nolan, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” from Woody Allen and “The Town” from Ben Affleck.
“The Night House” is a character study into a grieving widow’s possible descent into madness. And in the film distributed by Searchlight Pictures, Hall is given a pivotal role in which — much like the protagonist in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” — she commands the screen.
“The Night House” is helmed by David Bruckner, who has relatively few directing credits to his name, but has directed other movies in the horror genre such as “The Ritual” and “Southbound.”
“The Night House” currently holds an 85% approval rating among critics and a 66% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.
The critics’ consensus at RottenTomatoes.com: “Led by Rebecca Hall's gripping central performance, ‘The Night House’ offers atmospheric horror that engages intellectually as well as emotionally.”