Why is it that in the movies, remote lakeside houses out in the middle of nowhere are usually haunted?
We can only surmise that even departed spirits enjoy rustic property nestled deep in the woods beside a lake, away from all the hustle and bustle. And who could blame them?
In The Lake House a young woman named Beth (Rebecca Hall) wrestles with the sudden, recent loss of her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit).
We learn that Owen had taken his rowboat out to the middle of the lake and put a gun to his head, leaving behind a cryptic note and a ton of unanswered questions.
Beth sets out to solve the mystery, and in the process, uncovers layer upon layer of further mysteries and dark secrets.
There are books about the occult and parallel dimensions, elaborate floor plans for a house similar to the lake house the Owen built before he died, and photographs of a woman in a bookstore on Owen’s cell phone who looks like Beth’s identical twin.
An even bigger, more shocking discovery for Beth is that the house may be haunted.
In the tradition of old school horror movies, there are the loud noises in the middle of the night of someone pounding on the front door.
When she investigates by snooping around with a flashlight (no one in movies like this ever flips the switch and turns the house lights on) she discovers that nobody is there.
Upon further investigation, she does discover what appear to be bloody footprints leading from their dock up to the house.
She, of course, makes no attempt to take a photo of them with her cell phone as evidence, and that’s probably because it never occurs to her to call to the local police to report any of these strange occurrences. People rarely do in movies like this.
The bizarre occurrences continue, with the stereo suddenly coming to life in the middle of the night playing at maximum volume.
She receives inaudible cell phone calls with Owen’s caller ID. She gets text messages from him.
There is increasing evidence that something sinister is going, though Beth is never sure if these things are actually happening or whether they are perhaps just nightmares or hallucinations triggered by her numbing state of grief.
The Night House plays on the strange events that people sometimes report when a friend or family member passes away. There are things that simply can’t be explained. There is a familiar ghost story element that puts chills up our spines.
The movie also touches upon the question of what happens to us when we die.
In the case of Beth, we discover that she had been clinically dead for a few minutes as a result of an auto accident many years earlier. When pressed to tell what the experience was like and whether she saw a tunnel of light, she confesses that it was only a feeling of nothingness.
The existence of an afterlife was a point of contention between Beth and Owen before his passing. In the movie, it raises the question of whether this is Owen’s attempt to reach out to her from the beyond.
Story-wise, there are a lot of tantalizing pop culture hooks in The Night House--topics that people like to talk about and think about. People love a good ghost story.
But ghost stories can go in any number of directions as we’ve seen over the years with movies like The House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Haunting (1963), The Amityville Horror (1979), The Shining (1980), The Sixth Sense (1999), The Others (2001), or The Conjuring (2013).
Here, the tale becomes dark and twisted. Without giving away too much, it delves into possible demonic possession as well as some kinky rituals and sacrifices.
As with the classis horror flicks like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) or The Exorcist (1973) the further she digs, the more astonishing evil she discovers. I won’t give away the plot. But be prepared.
Likewise, I won’t give away the ending except to say that as in the case of so many movies like this, things are left somewhat unresolved and open to interpretation.
On a technical level, The Night House is respectably well made. It has all the creepy lighting and camerawork required to make the audience squirm with fear and anticipation.
Rebecca Hall’s Beth is a character we can identify and sympathize with, though she seems a little callous in some of the opening scenes, allegedly due to her state of grief.
Later she gains our full attention and concern when she becomes the helpless victim of a brutal, sexual attack by an unseen force in a scene reminiscent of the 1982 film The Entity, starring Barbara Hershey.
The final reel of The Night House is played for pure shock effect, flooded with flashbacks and revelations.
It’s a movie to watch at home at night with a bowl of microwave popcorn and the lights turned off. Unless your house sits deep in the forest on the edge of lake.
The Night House is in theaters now.
Photos Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved