Review: The Night House (Sundance 2020)

Title: The Night House
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: David Bruckner
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Stacy Martin
Runtime: 1 hr 48 mins

What It Is: Beth (Hall) reels from her husband’s recent death, attempting to move on from him and the large, luxurious, and lonely house that they built together. Soon, suspicious (if not supernatural) activity arises at night in the house, causing Beth to find things about her husband that terrify her as she grieves.

What We Think: Storytime. Back in the day, I used to work for this little animal hospital/hotel for pets and rescues. The hallways were small, the kennels lead out to a little yard where we take the dogs out and walk them around for a little bit a couple of times a day. I always had a closing shift, all by myself. That in itself was creepy (you could hear the dogs barking and whimpering faintly from the distance, sounding like human voices, usually female…), but anyway, the kennels were always terribly loud as the dogs would scream, howl, and bark. It was loud enough to make your eardrums shake and sound like paper, but we could never put in earplugs because we would have to hear when reception made announcements for pickups/dropoffs. After a while of doing this, my coworkers and I would come down with certain anxiety due to all the noise, the audible chaos, fear, and aggression in such a small space. I eventually grew more sensitive to loud and sudden noises the longer I worked for this job. One time a Shiba Inu (a dog with an especially high-pitched register) started shrieking sharply into my ear as I was trying to put on his harness, and ever since I have been made especially uneasy out by loud noises It just makes me twitch uncomfortably and I have to stop whatever I’m doing for a moment to recover.

That being said, I fucking hate jump scares. Not necessarily the visual ones, though. Those loud music cues or extreme-volume sound effects. I hate that because it’s manufactured to me. It’s not realistic, yet it often forces a physical/emotional reaction from you, even if you’re not technically scared or creeped out. Not to say this film isn’t creepy–it features quite a few intriguing and entertaining visuals that I really enjoyed seeing, stuff I’ve never seen before. That I employ–what I also employ is genuine creepiness. Films like Hereditary and L’interieur (Inside) achieve this. The Night House isn’t quite there. But again–right now it’s just me who doesn’t like jump scares. Personally I find them rather cheesy and inauthentic when produced in bulk… and this is pretty much the poster boy for a film relying on loud audio cues (for some reason–I feel like it would have been creepier and more effective had they been more subtle and allow the audience to experience things more for themselves).

I’ll say this, and I mean it as lovingly as possible, but this movie was an ear-rape-bukkake-fest (btw, if you don’t know what bukkake is, look it up on Google images). The sound design is entirely unrealistic, every little sound sharp and crispy as if we’re hearing everything with elephant ears. And, the worst offender of all is there is a scene in which the volume is turn all the way up what sounds like a blizzard of screaming static for more than several seconds. I slapped my hands over my ears for most of the movie (they had been left ringing a little bit). The sound design on top of watching this in a theater with some very booming speakers was a bit much for me and honestly affected my grade for this. I didn’t enjoy myself, I was just anticipating the next screaming jump scare to happen. Everything else was fine, otherwise. Just forewarning, listen to this movie on low if you can because all the noise made be very uncomfortable.

Our Grade: C, Other than what is probably my pre-existing ear damage, or maybe I’m just an old geezer, this was an okay horror flick. It had some concepts going for it, Rebecca delivers with incredible intelligence and wit that entertains, and I really liked a lot of the ideas behind and delivery of the visuals. I just wouldn’t watch it again because of how obnoxious it wanted to get across the jump scares. I just can’t. Nonetheless, people really got a hoot out of this door-slamming object-throwing supernatural-screaming display, and for the most part, I can’t blame really them.

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Chai Simone Written by: