Tag Archives: Sarah Goldberg

‘The Night House’ and Living With Anxiety

As a lifelong horror fan, I normally go into horror films for the thrill of being scared — overcome by anticipation of a fright-fueled experience that begins once the lights dim. But last year, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I found a film that offered both the fear I was looking for as well as a surprising form of healing. That movie was David Bruckner’s The Night House

When it comes to living with anxiety, it at times feels like I’m trapped in a dark abyss. It’s worse when a panic attack transpires; I’m not only fearing the worst possible scenario, but playing each possible situation out in my head. Each sour possibility sheds light on the alternate dimension that protagonist Beth (Rebecca Hall) must fight her way out of in the film’s climax.

Throughout The Night House, Beth deals with the grief of losing her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) while combating a malevolent spirit only referred to as Nothing. ‘Nothing’ is the same force that claims to have caused Owen to take his own life. During the final scene, Beth nearly suffers the same fate as Owen once she slips further into the shadow-drenched abyss, floating alone on her boat while overcome with feelings of grief and hopelessness. That is until her close friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) and neighbor Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) find her and, by getting Beth off the boat, end up pulling her back into reality.

There’s no climactic combat between Beth and Nothing or a feeling of triumph once Beth slips out of the shadow dimension. Instead, the film has Beth suddenly snap out of Nothing’s hypnosis and be dragged away from the boat by those close to her. As Beth stares back at the floating vessel, Mel assures her that there’s nothing there. Beth then responds with, “I know,” but knows Nothing is present and may follow her in the future.

There’s no added scene showing Beth’s life after her big confrontation. She knows that Nothing may still try to haunt her; it’s clear her life will remain a cycle of stepping in and out of the symbolic – and literal – dark abyss she’s ended up in. 

The offhand transition from nightmare to reality is where the film veers closer to the feeling of having a mental health spell. Whether one is forced to anxiously imagine the worst possible outcome or succumbs to the feeling of things not getting better, that experience becomes fleeting. Sometimes, you get out of it by doing a leisurely activity. Other times, the feeling hastily goes away the way it did for Beth. Even if the same depressive spells do resurface, the consolation from the last scene of The Night House is knowing that these occurrences are temporary.

Sometimes, such spells will feel like a voice in your head, one that the entity of Nothing is meant to represent. That voice can end up dictating your everyday life. Whether you’re going for a trip to the city or the theater, there may be something from within trying to sabotage your plans with fears of the worst. In the end, like the name of the antagonistic entity, that voice ends up being nothing. Once you move forward, it’s clear the voice in your head is filled with lies.

While The Night House culminates with the awareness that Beth’s boogeyman will follow her, it still emphasizes that such a presence can be challenged. The film’s journey in and out of anxiety and depression is one where its proximity to real-life horrors outweigh its haunted house machinations. Watching Beth go through the motions of grief and dread is more lingering than the picture’s isolated lake house setting. 

The film’s central performance is also a vital component to tapping into the heart of mental illness. As the overlooked indie Christine also showed, Rebecca Hall is a master at showcasing the distressing notions of living with an invisible illness. The scenes between her and Sarah Goldberg are a prime example of these struggles. As Claire tries opening up to Beth, assuring her that she has emotional support, Beth’s obsession with Owen’s mysterious death consumes her. Beth may willingly be surrounded by supportive friends, but even then, she’s still engulfed by her sense of loneliness. 

In the end, with the help of those close to her, Beth is still able to climb out of the darkness and into the light. Despite being trapped alone in an abyss drenched in red and black meant to reflect her lowest mental point, she still wins this battle. Ever since seeing the film, thinking of Beth fighting her way out of the darkness continues to make me believe I could, too.

In fact, on that very day, I was trapped in a dark abyss. It was a day of pacing back and forth because a possible stressful event was about to occur. It was unclear whether it would transpire but ideas of what the aftermath would be came flooding through my head. Intrusive thoughts and the feeling of not wanting to even leave my bed. But then, when said event didn’t happen the next day, I could exhale and say, I got worked up over nothing.

Since then, there remains a constant cycle of slipping in and out of the void. Always fearing the worst and at times losing interest in things that bring enjoyment before the feeling eventually drifts away and thinking to myself, “It’s all nothing.” Like Beth, I know that the panic attacks that serve as my own boogeyman always come back one way or another. But like every classic boogeyman introduced on the big screen, they can easily be fought.

Some days, I slip further into the abyss than others as I fear the worst is about to come. Yet, with a laugh or just by taking a deep breath, I climb out and say that the voice in my head is Nothing. I move onward and keep going. I find comfort in knowing that Beth keeps moving, too.