Over 10 years later, Neil LaBute is still probably apologizing for his remake of The Wicker Man. Now he’s back in the horror genre – including some intentional dark comedy – with the ‘date gone wrong’ House of Darkness. Before The Wicker Man, LaBute has explored themes of misogyny, which looks pretty central to House of Darkness. And like some of LaBute’s past work, this indie horror – starring Justin Long and Kate Bosworth – has the feel of stage play fit to the slightly bigger screen.
After meeting at a bar and sharing a few drinks, Hap Jackson drives the mysterious Mina home at the end of the night. But Mina’s home – a sprawling family mansion – sits far on the outskirts of the city. Though she claims that they’re alone, Hap repeatedly feels like there’s someone else in the house with them. And just as Hap – a player on the prowl – thinks he’s about to get lucky, Mina’s sister, Lucy, shows up. As the night progresses, Hap discovers that the sisters may have another surprise in store for him.
House of Darkness Squeezes Tension Out Of its ‘Cat and Mouse’ Banter
Fair or not, Neil LaBute will probably always be best remembered as the writer and director of the maligned The Wicker Man remake. If there’s good news it’s that House of Darkness is a little more subtle and intentionally humorous on occasion. This is a restrained, smaller horror movie that largely avoids the Gothic melodrama promised by its setting. Things linger in the shadows and LaBute drops one or two jump scares. It’s only in the movie’s final minutes that LaBute fully embraces the movie’s horror elements. An earlier nightmare sequence teases some of the potential offered by looming, shadowy corridors. And its final minutes deliver on some unexpected gore. Yet it also feels like a case of ‘too little, too late’. That is, the build up is good but the payoff falls short.
LaBute’s dialogue along with the verbal cat-and-mouse game between its central characters is the movie’s centerpiece. And the dialogue and banter between its characters is crisp.
Despite its sprawling Gothic setting, it’s the dialogue that drives the majority of House of Darkness. In fact, the premise and execution here would arguably work better on the stage. Aside from the handful of genuine horror moments, House of Darkness feels more like the indie fare that defined the 90s. LaBute’s dialogue along with the verbal cat-and-mouse game between its central characters is the movie’s centerpiece. And the dialogue and banter between its characters is crisp. House of Darkness milks out quite a bit of uncomfortable tension from watching Mina call out Hap on his ‘white lies’ and seeing him squirm. Arguably, LaBute’s biggest problem is that his twist on the movie’s narrative isn’t all that surprising. Most viewers will figure out what’s going on very quickly. given the abruptness of its conclusion,
House of Darkness Benefits from the Dynamic Between Long and Bosworth
Maybe Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers) is a jerk in real life. Or he’s just very good at playing smarmy jerks on screen. Following on his Barbarian role, Long is back again this fall playing another unscrupulous character. In fact, the overlap between Long’s ‘Hap Jackson’ and his Barbarian character is remarkable. If there’s a difference, here, Long plays an obvious player with few morals who only halfheartedly denies his own immorality. Long works well with his quippy dialogue and he invests Hap with mix of charm and brimming sleaze to make it enjoyable watching the character squirm. But it’s only when the stakes suddenly jump that Long’s ‘Hap’ completely feigns indignation and unveils just ho…
… Long plays an obvious player with few morals who only halfheartedly denies his own immorality.
For Kate Bosworth (The Domestics, Before I Wake), Mina may be the most interesting role she’s had in a few years. Clearly, Bosworth has a lot of fun with LaBute’s dialogue and the subtle barbs she delivers throughout House of Darkness. She fully immerses herself into the mysterious character and, in fact, continues to play Mina as an enigma even when the story tips its hand. Though she’s given a little less to do, Gia Crovatin ups the ante as ‘Lucy’, an equally mysterious characters who’s even more subtly savage at taking down Hap’s clumsy attempts at flirtation.
House of Darkness Mostly Works, But Feels Like a Better Fit for the Stage
There’s lots to like about House of Darkness, which subtly brews with tension for most of its runtime. LaBute’s dialogue is crisp and the cat-and-mouse banter between its characters adds quite a bit of dark humor while you wait for the inevitable reveal. Most viewers will figure out where the story is going by the midway point. As a result, the finale can’t help but feel perfunctory and, ultimately, abrupt. Maybe this is a movie that would work better as a stage production. But the atmosphere, dialogue, and performances make it worth a look.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B-