Neil LaBute has made a career out of men behaving badly. Work like In the Company of Men established the playwright and filmmaker as someone chronicling the worst impulses of the gender. Now, he’s trying something different with House of Darkness. Here, LaBute isn’t reversing the roles so much as course correcting, and in doing so, seems brought to new life. If this isn’t quite the movie you’d expect from him, he does prove that he’s the right man for the job. This also stands out as one of his more distinctive efforts, even if I was reminded a bit of The Shape of Things, at least in very broad strokes.
House of Darkness is as if LaBute crossed Promising Young Woman with Tusk, by way of Bram Stoker. If that sounds a little unwieldy, well, it threatens to be. However, LaBute and company know what kind of a film they’re making, so it’s always kept in check. As tense thrillers go, this is a creative one, in that it’s almost all talking (not that LaBute fans will be surprised).
For Hap Jackson (Justin Long), meeting Mina Murray (Kate Bosworth) at a bar that night is a dream come true. She’s direct and flirtatious, so when he offers to give her a ride, she’s more than willing. Driving home to her secluded estate after leaving the bar, Hap thinks this will be just another casual hook-up, albeit with someone perhaps a bit more ethereal than usual. While getting acquainted over more drinks, they continue to flirt, though there’s a sinister undercurrent that Hap only sometimes seems aware of. He’s going to wish he paid more attention.
When Mina’s sister Lucy (Gia Crovatin) appears, Hap flirts with her too, perhaps even thinking something out of Penthouse could be in the cards. That decidedly won’t be the case, however, since while his attempts at getting lucky will only result in his luck having run out, providing these women end up being who they claim to be. It all results in a climax that’s not hard to guess, but is fun to watch unfold.
Kate Bosworth and Justin Long are both good here, but Long is a bit of a secret weapon. While the former gets to be mysterious, the latter weaponizes his nice guy qualities. Long makes Hap a casual liar and likely cad, so while you don’t actively root for him to suffer, it’s never far from your mind that he’s not the greatest of dudes. The only other cast member is Lucy Walters, so it’s all about Bosworth and Long, give or take the supporting turn from Gia Crovatin.
Neil LaBute is clearly having a good time. Playing around in genre seems to have invigorated the writer/director. He even gets a little gnarly here and there, something he’s largely avoided in the past. House of Darkness is as talky as some of his classic works, but here, it’s not men seeking to destroy women, but women taking their vengeance on the lesser sex. LaBute isn’t the most likely candidate to have made this flick, but he does a good job, turning in something in between elevated horror and a Hammer picture.
House of Darkness finds Neil LaBute playing around in the world of genre, with largely satisfying results. As long as your expectations are kept somewhat in check, you’re likely to have a good time with this one. Between this and the soon to be released Barbarian, it’s also a fascinating time for Justin Long as an actor. More on that soon, but if you’re even a little curious about this one it’s well worth taking a gander at…