How Does Rebecca Hall Handle the Confounding Scares of ‘The Night House’? Let’s Find Out

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The Night House (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures)

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jonigkeit, Vondie Curtis Hall, Stacy Martin

Director: David Bruckner

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Creepy Sequences and Salty Language

Release Date: August 20, 2021 (Theaters)

Can we ever really know the people closest to us as well as we think we do? Not when there’s a demonic possession lurking around your home! (Which is what I think The Night House is saying.) Rebecca Hall plays Beth, a high school teacher who lives on her own in a lake house now that her seemingly well-adjusted husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) has killed himself. And honestly? That’s some spot-on casting. Hall excels at doing her damnedest to remain mentally put-together while suddenly becoming beset by all-consuming skepticism. We can believe that she will never give up on the search for the truth but also that she is too flummoxed to ever see it clearly. It’s a purposely erratic approach that might be too maddening for some audiences, but for my money, Hall holds it all together sufficiently, and director David Bruckner has plenty to offer in the creeps department.

For most of its running time, The Night House appears to be hurtling headlong towards a clear explanation for all the strange goings-on. Why does Owen shoot himself in the head? What’s the meaning of the enigmatic note he left behind? When Beth is dreaming, what’s the deal with the alternate dimension she seems to be entering and its attendant mirror image house? And what about that mysterious woman (or women?) Owen was surreptitiously hanging out with who looks just like Beth? Is this some sort of Vertigo situation? The best I can figure is that Owen has fallen prey to some sort of evil supernatural entity that is now threatening Beth’s life. But I’m not entirely sure if that’s correct. That vagueness can be frustrating for some, but I appreciate it to a certain extent, because it means that this is nowhere near your standard devil-made-me-do-it story.

The easiest metaphorical read is that Beth is a victim of all-consuming depression, but her situation resists easy interpretation. She offhandedly mentions past mental health struggles without going into too much detail, and while she seems distressed now, she doesn’t come off as particularly depressed. More like obsessed, which is certainly understandable in light of her husband’s suicide. Ultimately, The Night House is writing its own new language of psychological anguish, in which Beth’s waking hours lose all their stability, while her subconscious is beset by a creatively disruptive force. It ends exactly where it needs to without having to definitively clear up the mystery.

The Night House is Recommended If You Like: Vertigo, Insidious, possibly The One I Love? (I haven’t seen it, but the premise seems to have some similarities)

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Nightmares

Movie Review: ‘The Hummingbird Project’ Wrings Some Meaning Out of a Story That Few, If Any, People Were Clamoring to Hear

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CREDIT: The Orchard

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Mando, Salma Hayek, Sarah Goldberg

Director: Kim Nguyen

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for The Profanity of High-Stakes Finance

Release Date: March 15, 2019 (Limited)

The Hummingbird Project has one of the most stunningly esoteric premises of any theatrically released movie I have ever come across. So it’s a bit of a small miracle that it actually manages to be halfway compelling. It helps that the execution is straightforward, but that is also what holds it back from being truly memorable. Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) is a high-frequency trader whose dream is to build a fiber-optic cable line between Kansas and New Jersey that is efficient enough to decrease the time that information currently travels over that distance by one millisecond. But is that really his dream? Is that really anyone’s dream? His cousin and partner Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) is just as committed to the goal, but he essentially has a healthier perspective, treating it as a game or a code to crack. For Vincent, this is really about proving to the world that the little guy can come out on top, but his obsession has led him to turn the meaning of this highly specialized thing into the thing itself, when it actually represents normal human desires.

I imagine that many viewers will have the same reaction to Vincent and Anton that I did, which is to want to assure them that one millisecond cannot possibly be that important, no matter how many millions it will make them over the long run. Their pursuit is fundamentally maddening, though Eisenberg and Skarsgård make it palatable by tuning their performances to a sensitive enough key. It also helps that the script underlines how much they are doing this for a better family life. Vincent keeps reminding Anton that this job will ultimately lead to a charming, country mansion. Their desires are simple, really, as Vincent also promises that he will take Anton’s daughters out for ice cream once they return home.

Unsurprisingly, then, for a number of reasons, it turns out that Vincent is doing this all for his father, a Russian immigrant who was shaken down by government types on suspicion of being a communist spy. That led Vincent to learn that he needs to be so good at what he does that the people in charge cannot possibly deny it. This is a fairly unique version of the trope of attempting to please your parents after they’ve died, but it is not reason enough for Vincent to practically kill himself with his single-mindedness. It is a bit of a marvel how much relatable meaning can come out of this premise, but is still so esoteric as to have been seemingly made for one very specific theoretical viewer, and that viewer is not me.

The Hummingbird Project is Recommended If You Like: The specifics of laying down fiber-optic cable

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Milliseconds