Searchlight Pictures is closing in on the worldwide distribution rights to “The Night House,” a supernatural thriller that premiered to strong reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, insiders close to the deal said.
Directed by David Bruckner and starring Rebecca Hall, the deal is reportedly valued at roughly $12 million. It marks the first major sale of the 2020 edition of the Park City festival, which has been stacked with topical content but lacking in market activity. It’s also a hefty price considering that although Hall is an accomplished actress, she’s not a bankable star with international recognition.
A sale might suggest the market is thawing, but Searchlight’s aggression is somewhat surprising. The indie studio scored with the 2015 pickup “Brooklyn,” grossing $62.1 million globally and nabbing a best picture nomination at the Academy Awards. However, its 2016 purchase of Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” holds the record for biggest festival sale at $17.5 million. But as the movie was about to open, media reported on a past rape allegation from Parker’s college years, and the film went on to gross only $15 million at the domestic box office. A year later, Searchlight acquired “Patti Cake$” for $9.5 million, which went on to gross a disastrous $800,000 in the U.S.
Oscar hopeful “A Hidden Life” from director Terrence Malick was purchased out of Cannes last year in a reported $12 million to $14 million sale. That title has only grossed $1.6 million in the U.S. to date and attracted no major awards attention. Two years ago, when Searchlight was still owned by 21st Century Fox, the studio began to move more aggressively into producing their own in-house movies such as “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” because they believed that prices at festivals had become inflated.
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In “Night House,” Hall plays widow Beth, reeling from shock over her husband’s sudden death in the pair’s lakeside home. A series of disturbing dreams become increasingly real, as Beth unearths a ghostly presence in her home that vanishes during the day. An ongoing investigation through the house (and their marriage) turns up strange secrets and mystery she must solve.
Bruckner’s first solo-directed feature film, “The Ritual,” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017 and was released by Netflix. “The Night House” is his follow-up.
Searchlight has a new parent company in Disney, which has been publicly effusive in its praise for the indie studio’s prestige offerings. The company enjoyed a major box office hit with “JoJo Rabbit,” a World War II comedy that was nominated for six Oscars including best picture, and a commercial success with “Ready or Not,” a dark comedy that grossed $57.4 million.
A spokesperson for Searchlight declined comment. A spokesperson for Endeavor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.