Beth thought she knew what to expect. But the truth is, there are some events in life that are so completely out of your control that all of your surety about everything that came before just blows away like dust.
When Beth’s husband, Owen, rowed out into the middle of the lake near their house and took his life with a pistol (that she didn’t even know they had) she was left completely adrift. Alone. Afraid. There didn’t seem to be any reason for his choice. And she really wasn’t sure what would come next.
It was a good thing that her school year was near its end. After closing her teacher’s grade book, she went home and just drank for a few days. She didn’t even like the brandy she pulled up out of the basement—that was Owen’s thing—but it kept her foggy enough to knock off the lacerating edges of her emotions.
Then, after days of heavy drinking, she got a phone call from Owen in the middle of the night.
She woke the next morning in a heap on the floor, realizing that it must have been a horrible drunken nightmare. There was no phone call. Nothing had registered on her smartphone or his. But it was enough to get her moving again.
So she started packing up her husband’s clothes, trash-bagging his bathroom stuff and the like. It was when she got to boxing up some of his books that a few things gave her pause. She found duplicate floorplans to another house. It was an opposite, mirror-image version of their own house. And the pages had notes on them that Owen had written about tricking someone.
Then Beth found pictures of her … that weren’t her. She was sure of it. The woman looked like her, the same build, same hair from a distance. But Beth was positive it wasn’t her. So she began to search in ernest. A tiny clue here, a fragment of something there, and before you know it, Beth was in full detective mode.
Sometimes things happen for no reason at all. But sometimes there are reasons, there are tangles to pull apart and mysteries to unfold. And Beth was in the untangling, unfolding mood.
She was desperate for it.
Beth’s friend and fellow teacher Claire is kind and caring. And she puts effort into seeing Beth through a very difficult and emotional time. Claire offers to stay with her fragile friend and invites her to stay at her home.
Beth’s older next-door neighbor Mel is another individual looking out for her well-being. He had kept a secret from Beth that Owen had begged him to keep, but he eventually tells her the whole truth and does what he can to help her.
[Spoiler Warning] We eventually learn that Beth’s husband—while doing some deceptive, terrible things—was actually trying to protect her from something deadly dangerous. In fact, his misguided suicide was even part of that.
As the film begins, viewers could well think this is a ghostly love story mixed with a mystery. After all, Beth does long for her deceased husband. And supernatural things do take place that range from creaking doors and floors, bloody footprints and ghostly figures running across a lawn in the dead of night, to electronics and phones turning on and delivering eerie messages and creepy whispers. Beth also appears to see glimpses of an alternate reality that seemingly holds the spirits of people who have passed before or are trapped in another dimension.
[Spoiler Warning] But there is something even more dark and demonic at play here. And if looked at in the right light, The Night House delivers a warning about dabbling in any form of afterlife pursuit. There are certainly nonbiblical spiritual elements here, but there are well-defined illustrations of demonic deceit and deadliness as well.
We hear the tune “The Calvary Cross” partially played several times; its lyrics mix references to the cross and spiritual torment. A Christmas carol plays, singing of Christ the King, during a creepy spiritual moment.
Beth’s neighbor Mel notes that Beth and Owen were a “godsend” when he was dealing with the death of his beloved wife. Beth tells of dying in a car crash before being revived. She also reports that she later told Owen that she saw nothing while dead, “no light at the end of the tunnel.” Owen, however, wanted to believe in more.
She reads passages of a book that make mention of people casting spells.
Beth discovers that someone has been seducing women who all look very much like her. There are implied sexual relationships in the mix, but we never see any that go beyond an embrace and a kiss.
Beth looks out of her bedroom window and sees the form of her naked husband standing in the yard with his back to her (we see him fully unclothed from the rear). We also see Owen naked and sitting in front of Beth in a row boat (with all key areas covered).
Beth discovers a statuette of a naked female form impaled with several long spikes.
A man seduces and manhandles various women. We see him slamming several of them (in quick glimpses) against a mirror, against a wall and down on the floor. He sometimes grabs the women by the throat. And in one case, it’s apparent that he has killed a woman because of the blood spattering the wall and floor.
In like turn, an invisible entity grabs Beth several times, too. Its invisible fingers run lightly over her arms. But it also grabs her by the throat and slams her up against a wall. She’s knocked out at several points, lifted into the air by her throat and laid down in a small boat.
During her explorations, Beth finds a partially built house and discovers the bodies of a half-dozen dead women, wrapped in plastic and hidden beneath the floorboards.
There are some 17 f-words and a handful of s-words mixed in with multiple uses of “h—” and “a–hole.” God’s and Jesus’ names are both misused (with the former being combined with “d–n” once).
Beth drinks a lot of wine and brandy. In one case she gets pretty tipsy with fellow teachers drinking beer, wine and mixed drinks at a bar. In another instance she shares a glass of brandy with a woman she just met. But in most cases, Beth drinks alone. Beth’s friend Claire smokes a cigarette on one occasion.
As mentioned, deception is woven into the story here in various ways.
A well-made horror film can make you think. I’m not talking about jump-scare pics filled with talking dolls or creepy little dark-haired girls skittering across the ceiling. There are some films of the horror stripe that seriously make you pause and ponder the possibility of the spiritual struggles in our world. And the best of those slowly thickening tales will carry on until they swallow a viewer in harrowing ways.
The Night House, featuring the sure-handed and dramatically capable Rebecca Hall, is such a film. She and director David Bruckner have created something that’s unexpectedly rattling. This tale starts off as a wounded woman’s search for resolution and slowly inches its way into palpable darkness.
That’s not to say that you should jump in the car and head to the theater. This R-rated horror story is splattered with as much crass, foul language as it is packed with emotional torment. And though its worst possible visuals are kept off-screen, there’s still murder, physical abuse, infidelity and very dark spirituality in the cinematic coalescence.
The Night House’s finely tuned and unsettling storyline could provoke a deeper spiritual conversation for some. That said, this is definitely not a film for everyone.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.