Independent Cinema: House Within the Night (2017)

A sinister byproduct of loss is an infatuation with “what ifs”.  Memories become links in chains of endless possibilities, locked within prisons of self-perpetuated regret.  Daniel Offenbacher’s debut feature film is a harrowing examination of self-imposed solitude, an existential mood piece that delves into the essence of bereavement.  More of an experience than a traditional film, House Within the Night blends a quartet of dedicated performances, dreamlike visuals, and a hypnotic score to create a Sarte-like purgatory of the mind.  

Paul and Rob find themselves inside a house that may or may not exist.  They spend their time reliving tragedies from their past, desperately searching for metaphysical remedies to their situations while time continues to mercilessly pass them by.  Offenbacher and Andrew Boone's script takes a minimalist approach.  While the film is more of a visual experience, when dialogue is encountered, it matters.  It is easy to find flaws in a low budget production.  Filmmakers often rely on substitution and trickery to overcome the disadvantages of their financing, however, Offenbacher's approach is full of confidence.  From the haunting initial frames to the quiet apocalypse of its conclusion, it is clear this is a fully realized passion play by an artist with something to say.  The slow, tranquil approach to the story may be off putting to some, but the wonder of the film lies in the journey rather than a climatic finale.  

Pierre Walters and Taylor Woodson star as Paul and Rob.  One of the most interesting parts of their dynamic is how they don't interact.  In a story such as this, it is expected that the two leads would play off one another, however, here, each man is enveloped in his own hell, and thus their interactions are more fluid than traditional conversation.  Their thoughts almost overlap, drifting into each other’s' tragedies with ease.  Pierre Walter's ability to communicate the fear of realization is astounding, while Woodson's inner sorrow is perfectly restrained.  Callie Beattie supports as Paul's former paramour, an ethereal phantom of the mind's eye.  Her chemistry with Walters is natural, allowing the viewer to descend into the destruction of their love.  Sheila Blanc rounds out the cast as Rob's mother, complementing the hazy ambiance with her unique presence.  It would be easy for a film like this to descend into outright horror, however, Blanc's understanding of the material combines with Offenbacher's patient command to ensure everything inside House Within the Night remains thoroughly uncategorizable.  

Offenbacher's cinematography is the centerpiece.  Mirroring Weerasethakul's static long takes, whenever the camera does move, it is of the utmost importance.  The compositions within the house and the surrounding environs are both breathtaking and strangely uncomfortable simultaneously.  It is obvious within seconds whom the influences are, but finding the many, many subtle and not so subtle nods are one of the film's many pleasures.   The sound design, also done by Offenbacher, continues the film's elusive quality, filling each scene with ticking clocks and screeching bed frames, constant reminders that things are awry.  Hannah Wynne's score is the final piece and perhaps the boldest.  While everything hinges on subtlety, the score intensifies at various intervals throughout, not to induce panic or excitement, but to highlight the relevance of Paul and Rob's sojourn with respect to the viewer own experiences. 

Available for digital rental May 5, 2018, House Within the Night is an unbelievable debut feature and one of the most rewarding viewing experiences of 2017.  If you're interested in experimental storytelling, this is an absolute delight that shows how much promise this up and coming director has to offer.  

-- Kyle Jonathan