David Bruckner’s Bruckner’s The Night House is a haunting reencounter with depression.
At the center of The Night House is school teacher/widow Beth—played by Rebecca Hall—who is just amazing in the movie. Summer time is supposed to be a teacher’s much needed break to unwind from the long school year. Especially when you live in a home hand built by your husband, surrounded by beautiful woods and a lake. What more could you ask for?
But instead of kicking back and relaxing for the Summer, Beth has to deal with her husbands suicide. As far as we know…..and as far as Beth knew, Owen was a happy and normal guy. So this comes as quite a shock for her. Not only does his death trigger her fluctuating depression, but the bullet he put into his skull causes some sinister secrets to leak out and flood Beth’s world once again. Owen had a type and he killed that type. There is still plenty that is unclear about his dark habits, but it’s clear that Owen was a serial killer. There’s no other way to put it. He would find white women who are tall, skinny and with long dark hair and kill them in a mirrored version of their own house across the lake. Not very original or sneaky, but apparently it worked for him for far too long. Its not long before Beth begins to have night terrors. She wakes up to the home stereo system playing some eerie love ballads and ghostly texts from her deceased husband. “COME DOWN”, “DON”T BE AFRAID”, a staticy phone conversation from the other side and then a completely nude Owen standing on the nearby lake. These moments are some of the finest horror moments from any horror movie of 2021 and this is only the beginning. It gets even crazier.
Day and Night Beth is traumatized by her husband’s death. Both times of the day provide their own dimensions of terrors. The house that was once a place of Beth’s dreams, is now a dreadful structure, brimming with the evil her husband produced.
Each day, Beth suffers from a reality of carrying the burden of her husband’s untimely death and has to live with his past wrongdoing that she is only now unraveling with what little evidence and information she has. Just imagine how overwhelming this must feel. It’s easily enough to trigger her depression once again.
Each night is met with the severe blurring of reality and nightmare. Her night terrors trap her in this blood red nightmare realm where she bears witness to her husband’s crimes. It’s also where she is visited by a presence that she believes is her husband. It’s nearly an Invisible Man situation. She speaks with this invisible presence and it responds with some creepy soft ASMR. The Night House features such fantastic sound design. The voice reassures her it’s Owen….until it gets in deep enough to really sink its teeth in and reveal itself to be “Nothing”. This is where the movie gets a little too complicated for its own good.
Nothing would actually appear to be something—a demonic entity that controlled Owen to do terrible things, or it could even be Owen who was in fact a sick and twisted human being who is evil enough to haunt Beth. He did have thoughts of killing her in the past. Saying Nothing is some separate demonic entity seems like a cop out to me though. The movie explores this demonic notion often but Nothing seems to instead be some powerful manifestation of depression. This mental illness is not mutually exclusive and attacks a person in its own ways. Owen suffered from his own issues and Beth has hers. When one half of a couple suffers from this mental illness, it can be contagious to both feel it. But again, that’s more of a cop out for Owen’s actions. But this battle with depression is entirely different. The more Beth learns about Owen, the worse her depression gets and the deeper Nothing gets into her psyche. It leads to her own attempted suicide, the exact same way as Owen, to end the nightmare once and for all. In the boat, trapped in the blood red nightmare realm, with the same pistol in hand she can’t escape it any longer. But luckily with some outside help, Beth is ripped out of this trance at the very last second, stopping her from ending her own life. But nothing’s presence may always remain close by waiting in that metaphorical boat, ready to pounce at your lowest, most vulnerable of moments and become something of nightmares. Depression can strike at any moment.
I do have some minor issues with the plot, mostly later in the movie. It’s not clear whether Owen was murdering these women before they met 15 years ago and killed himself before he fully relapsed, or if he did relapse and was killing women behind Beths back for some time now and finally decided enough was enough. Its seems more like these killings were happening while the two were married.
I know Beth was probably a busy school teacher, away from home most days while her husband was either at home or doing architect things. But still, wouldn’t she be able to sense something in those 15 years? She had a history of dealing with depression so it’s possible she was blinded by this veil of emotions, unable to sense anything was wrong. But its far more interesting to see her realization of events now, her brutal battle with depression than to think about plot issues. And not knowing Owen’s full story and seeing the horrors that Beth faces as a result, just makes The Night House even creepier.
With each movie, I see David Bruckner exploring new territory and getting better as he evolves as a filmmaker. I was completely freaked out by his segment on V/H/S, “Amatuer Night”, I was entertained enough with Southbound and I was thoroughly impressed by The Ritual.
The Night House takes his work to another level. You can be found on Amazon and iTunes.