Movie Review: Hall needs a night light in “The Night House”

Austere and positively chilling in its austerity, “The Night House” is a haunted house tale with a tasty twist or two to go along with the usual thumps, bumps, disembodied voices and words written on a steamed-over window or mirror.

It’s another thriller that reminds us of the importance of casting. Good actors get across the deflating shock of grief, the jaw-dropping dismay at confronting the unexplained and the terror of being attacked by it.

Rebecca Hall of “The Town” and “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women” brings subtle shadings to the widowed Beth, who starts wondering if the house her architect husband built has been haunted by him after his death.

We meet her on the day of the funeral, dumping the proffered covered-dish consolations of neighbors into the bin, hunting down that last case of brandy in the cellar to watch and weep over old home videos with.

A teacher, she unloads — ever so nicely — on a helicopter parent when she goes back to work, describing the way Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) , her husband, “stuck a gun in his mouth” on the lake out behind their luxurious, custom built home.

But things are happening, and she can’t be certain if they’re “real” or brandy-coated dreams. She gets text messages. Their stereo system kicks on by itself. Knocks on a door, thumps in the walls, and footprints on the dock make her wonder if there’s such a thing as ghosts.

His bloodstained suicide note, just the conversation starter to bring to “drinks” with colleagues after work, seems to suggest no clues, just “you were right” and “You’re safe, now.”

Owen’s blueprints take on an M.C. Escher quality.

But a hunt through his phone suggests other mysteries, perhaps other women, that she has to figure connect to the noises, music, lights and other phenomena.

“I didn’t think we had secrets.

The “explanations” in this Ben Collins/Luke Piotrowski script (“Super Dark Times” was theirs) might be the most conventional element in this David Bruckner film. But the director of “The Ritual” and his star wring a few jolts and a dollop of pathos out of it.

Sarah Goldberg is nicely empathetic as the colleague who worries about Beth, and Vondie Curtis Hall is the neighbor worried she’s losing it, or that she might dig until she finds something that is neither helpful nor safe.

“You can’t unknow what you know.”

“The Night House” serves up the subtle horror of expectations, invites us to join our heroine in fearing the worst, perhaps simply resigned to it. And Hall makes everything we see and that Beth experiences credible, which may be the creepiest thing about it.

Rating: R for some violence/disturbing images, and language including some sexual references

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jonigkeit and Vondie Curtis Hall

Credits: Directed by David Bruckner, script by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski. A Searchlight release.

Running time: 1:48

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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