After my eight-to-five shift in Ogden, I braved a downpour in my tiny car with squeaky wipers on a long drive to Park City, where I met a press agent for my ticket to The Night House a few nights later in Salt Lake City. Once near PC, the quest took two shuttles, both ways, getting turned around while searching for a rented home and several hours in the cold to complete. And, honestly, it was well worth the trip.
With lingering jump scares, practical effects, nightmare-wrapped enigmas and a dash of gallows humor, The Night House is a ghost story that leaves you guessing.
It starts with opening shots featuring a handful of elements that play a part in the horror to come, and then we meet Beth (Rebecca Hall) who has just arrived home from what seems to have been a funeral, parting ways with a woman who assures her that she’ll be there if she needs her. The casserole dish Beth brings into the house goes straight in the garbage in favor of a hard drink. We soon learn that she lost her husband to suicide, and as she drinks away her anguish, we can’t blame her when she starts to associate thumps on the walls, footsteps on the dock to the boat where Owen shot himself and their wedding song playing randomly (a Richard Thompson number) with his ghost. As the haunting intensifies, we start to wonder what’s a nightmare and what’s not, and what’s with the other women it seems Owen was secretly seeing and the house across the lake?
Horror fans may notice themes similar to those in recent films like The Babadook, Hereditary and Us, though The Night House seems to leave more room for self-doubt. While not completely flawless, with some repetitiveness and overused symbolism, The Night House still ranks among the best of Sundance’s Midnight features.
Screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski wrote the script in 2014 with inspiration from early 20th century author Arthur Machen and occult practices. Director David Bruckner, known for The Ritual, read and fell for the script four years later. They were lucky to land Hall, who definitely shows her chops in this work.
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 11:45 p.m., Egyptian Theatre, Park City
Saturday, Feb. 1, 3:30 p.m., The Ray Theatre, Park City
Can’t find tickets to either Sundance screening? A major release may be in the works. Searchlight Pictures reportedly offered $12 million for rights to the film. Read about it.