Beth (Hall) has been struck numb with the sudden trauma of grief, and it’s the kind of grief that comes with a side of anger, as she’s furious at her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) for taking the boat out one morning and shooting himself in the head. He reportedly showed no signs of depression—as she says at one point, that was her thing—and Beth is just expected to keep unpacking at their lake house and going about her daily life as a teacher. As she opens boxes, she discovers some unusual possessions by Owen, including some books that appear to be about the occult and dark arts, complete with notes in the margin by her dead husband. What was he into?
At the same time, Beth keeps having intensifying nightmares. They typically take place in the lake house where she now resides alone, and they seem to be leading her places, including to another “mirror house” across the lake, and down to where Owen kept his darkest secrets. Why is she being shown these things? Hall deftly conveys a blend of anger, grief, and confusion that captures what it’s like to be left behind by suicide, wherein questions can never have concrete answers and loved ones naturally feel hurt by the decision to be left behind. She is a remarkable performer, doing some of her best work here in a part that requires a wide range of emotion. So many other actresses would have let the haunting do the work, but Hall knows that a film like this doesn’t connect without true, character-driven feelings at the center. It’s a performance that reminded me of Nicole Kidman in “The Others” or Toni Collette in “Hereditary”—two other turns wherein if they don’t commit 100%, the entire suspension of disbelief collapses.
The script by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski forces Beth to be as much of an investigator as a survivor. When someone dies at their own hand, people have a habit of saying that they must have been hiding something, and it feels like the writers started with that idea. What was Owen keeping from his wife and friends? Without spoiling anything, it was a lot. Even Owen’s dark secrets change shape over the course of this story. At first, it feels like it will be a simple tale of a widow discovering her husband’s secret life, especially after Beth finds a photo of another woman (Stacy Martin) on his phone. There’s more to it than that. Almost too much more. The final revelations of “The Night House” can be a bit difficult to unpack and connect back to the bulk of the film—I even had to email a colleague who asked me to try and explain the plot after the screening. I’m pretty sure that I get it, but I’m not fully convinced everything lines up.