The Night House is one of the most harrowing horror films in recent memory, with strong suspense, an emotionally complex journey for central protagonist Beth, smart cinematography, and production design. It’s a haunting and truly scary film with a stunning central performance. I sat down with director David Bruckner and star Rebecca Hall to chat the film, its influences, the complexities of performing such an isolated character, and more. (Interviews conducted separately)
JE: How did you become involved with the project?
DB: Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, two writers who [are] pals of mine, we had been looking for something to do together for a while. They wrote the script very fast in 2014, and I didn’t get my hands on it for a while—it was it was set up with somebody else, and then in 2017 it freed up again. I had just finished the ritual, and Ben and Luke had suggested that I give it a read. I read it and just felt like I hadn’t seen a spin on a haunted house like this. They were getting in some really compelling, very tough, dark stuff that I like to joke wouldn’t leave me alone, it stayed on my mind. I just began to evangelize the script at every opportunity, and luckily I told Keith Levine at Phantom Four and they, he and David Goyer, set out to bring it to life.
RH: [For me it was] a combination of thing. In a nutshell, the script was really good! The character was really strong and unusual, and I was really gripped and intrigued by her, she was very mysterious to me. I think I got to the scene where she is in the classroom talking to the parents. It’s essentially an exposition scene, but I thought it was so deftly handled and had this sort of wit to it… dark, dark, wit but still a kind of brittleness and anger. I was very intrigued by her from that moment, and knew that I wanted to do it from that scene onwards.
JE: How did you go about filming some of the sequences with Beth and the invisible force? Especially when she was by herself in the scene?
RH: It was appealing because it was something I haven’t done before. I thought ‘well this will be a challenge,’ and I think I underestimated the knid of challenge that it was. There is a huge amount of energy that you derive from other actors, a huge creative spark… it’s a team endeavor… it took a tremendous amount of stamina and also there was a huge physical aspect to it as well… it was something that you really can’t think about too much, you just have to let it happen and just trust your instinct in the moment.
JE: How did you manage the scenes where there was corporeality to the entity?
RH: There were some practical gags, I suppose… occasionally they blew an air blower onto my skin so I could feel something. That was one way that we that we did it but also wise. Otherwise… I wasn’t feeling someone in a green suit that then got CGI’ed. We were a small movie, and resources being what they were… I think, going into those scenes, I think I rather naively assumed that there would be a choreographer. The reality of it was I showed up and the director was like ‘now is the scene where, essentially, you make out with the ghost.’ I remember just having a second just before he called action [thinking] ‘I’m definitely going to make a fool of myself, I’m definitely going to make the crew laugh’… there is nothing I can do but just hurl myself into this and try and behave like a dancer would and just try and intuit some sort of physical reality. It’s a very different kind of acting and I really loved it.
JE: What was the process of shooting those scenes in particular, David?
DB: Well with the invisible force stuff in particular it’s a very loose blocking, but to a large degree I think my approach to all of this was about making space for Rebecca. I mean, the character Beth is really out on a limb, she’s having an experience that… while I think a lot of us can relate to [parts of it] I think it’s beyond our experiences. There are certain things Beth has seen that we have yet to embark upon on our own. So in a way there’s a mystery to her, there’s a withholding where she’s concerned.
I think as we were shooting we kind of got into a rhythm, I ended up scratching out a lot of fantasy shots that I had ideas for in lieu of just pulling the apparatus back, but giving her some space. I tend to do that when I have the opportunity, I think you can get a level of naturalism that can be disarming in the context of scary stuff, genre movies. The more real and familiar and a little bit messy the characters feel, the more almost inappropriate it feels when all things spooky and fantastical begin to happen. ][For] those kind of nightmare sequences in particular that you’re talking about, we had an approach for how it was going to go but there were a lot of rough edges there. To a certain degree we just kind of handed it to Rebecca and said ‘what if it’s this, how would you go about it?’ and before we talked about it too much ‘what if we roll? Let’s just give it a shot.’
The Night House premiered at Sundance 2020 and just hit Fantasia 2021. It’s slated for release on August 20th, 2021.