Neil LaBute’s House Of Darkness is set in a single location and only has four speaking roles. As such, it is safe to assume this was a pandemic production. But, the writer-director is clearly enjoying revisiting his favored themes. He also seems to relish the more intimate nature of this independent production versus the big-budget productions of yesteryear that threatened to swallow him whole.
Kate Bosworth and Justin Long star as Hap and Mina, who met at a bar one night. They get on well, and Hap offers Mina a ride home when she’s ready to leave. Upon arriving at her family’s mansion, Mina invites Hap in so that they can continue getting to know each other. Once inside, Hap swears he’s seeing things move in the shadows, though Mina thinks it’s just her creaky, old house messing with him. As the couple’s conversation goes on, Mina plays coy about certain details, making Hap feel even tenser.
To reveal more would constitute massive spoilers. While the film is 90% dialogue, House Of Darkness still feels tense and claustrophobic. Don’t misconstrue that statement: the screenplay is peppered with eerie lines, and a few exchanges feel off, furthering the sense of dread LaBute is hoping to convey. But those who need a little more action in their cinema should look elsewhere.
“…Mina invites Hap in so that they can continue getting to know each other.”
With that being said, the narrative and characters are quite gripping and intriguing. However, the ultimate reveal behind the strange goings-on would benefit from a more concrete and personal tie to Hap. But, oh, what strange goings-on they are. Wisely, the filmmaker eschews any jump scares (with one well-earned exception), instead choosing to let the enveloping rooms and creeping shadows create the horror. Thanks to the director of photography, Daniel Katz, the film looks sleek, and scenes turn on a dime from warm and inviting to uncanny and frightening.
The stars are terrific, giving their roles everything they got. Long is charming as ever, putting his excellent comedic timing to good use. Then, as the narrative progresses, he sells the drama and horror just as well. Bosworth speaks in an affected tone, but she’s not emotionless. In fact, the actor carries a rather raw though pleasant cadence throughout the entire film. And given how many lines she and Long share, that couldn’t have been easy.
No points will be awarded for guessing the supernatural element at play in House Of Darkness (hint: look at each character’s name). And again, the “why” could have used some tweaking to make the largest impact possible. But, LaBute rewards patient viewers with two amazing lead performances, crackling dialogue, and genuine suspense. While the film might be flawed, it is imminently watchable.
"…LaBute rewards patient viewers with two amazing lead performances, crackling dialogue, and genuine suspense."