Sometimes a film tries to be too smart for its own good.
Style and story are the two aspects of filmmaking used to gauge how well a movie is received. Some films excel at both, others fail at both and the majority of films only do one aspect well. Case in point: “The Night House,” a film that is full of style but lacks critical storytelling to piece everything together.
Style-over-substance films are big hits among critics but are not received well by audiences, mainly because critics are most likely to appreciate the technical aspects of filmmaking, while audiences are looking for a gripping story. That doesn’t mean that stylistic movies are bad, it just means audiences are less likely to enjoy them — which brings us to “The Night House.”
The film goes off the rails when it attempts to introduce the horror element of its story. Not only are the scares non-existent, but the more the story reveals, the less sense it makes. Characters who are supposed to be smart make mind-bogglingly stupid decisions that only further their own peril, creating a false sense of tension. The justification for Beth refusing to go to the authorities as she uncovers disturbing details of her husband’s past removes sympathy for her future predicaments.
The dialogue is enraging at times, as characters talk to each other without social awareness. The tired trope of foolish humans playing with demonic forces is in full effect. Beth at one point doesn’t even react when she discovers occult books and a totem hidden in their half-finished house. Decisions like this turn Hall’s great performance into a borderline parody of a 1990s slasher film.
“The Night House” is a horror film that can’t properly mix the elements psychological and supernatural. Despite being a well-shot visual thriller, it is far too pretentious to hold together its narrative from start to finish.