Director David Bruckner (The Ritual) returns to horror with The Night House, a film that shines a spotlight on Rebecca Hall as a newly widowed woman who fears she's being haunted by her late husband (Luke Piotrowski).
On screen for almost the entire movie, Hall creates a character whose grief hasn't dulled her sharp edges. Hall's performance drips with anger and resentment, some of it prompted by a husband who committed suicide and who, as we slowly learn, may not have been the man she thought him to be.
When it comes to ghosts, Beth's previous experiences fuel big-time skepticism, but events challenge her.
Alone in her home on a lake, she encounters some of the standard frights that have come to define the genre: loud noises, a stereo that turns on by itself, or a shadowy figure glimpsed in the corner of a room.
Bruckner creates shivers, not an easy task when so many horror movies already have taken up residence in similar domains, homes that are presumed to be comforting and safe.
Although the movie belongs to Hall, the supporting performances add flavor. Sarah Goldberg portrays Beth's best friend, a fellow teacher at the local high school. Vondie Curtis-Hall portrays one of Beth's concerned neighbors.
Bruckner introduces a variety of themes: Beth's state of mind, the possibility of life after death, the blurry line between dreams and reality, and terrible secrets that are revealed when Beth discovers the unfinished house her husband was building in the woods.
Beth also finds books on the occult that her husband owned. Further complicating matters, she learns that he had a fascination with women who resembled her. Did she know him or was her 14-year-marriage a sham?
Movies that raise tantalizing questions and gradually reveal themselves carry an extra burden. It's never easy to deliver the hoped-for payoff.
The ending of Night House doesn't quite do the trick but for most of the movie, Bruckner keeps us hooked.