Combustible Celluloid Review - House of Darkness (2022), Neil LaBute, Neil LaBute, Justin Long, Kate Bosworth, Gia Crovatin, Lucy Walters
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With: Justin Long, Kate Bosworth, Gia Crovatin, Lucy Walters
Written by: Neil LaBute
Directed by: Neil LaBute
MPAA Rating: R for some bloody violence/gore, sexual material, and language throughout
Running Time: 88
Date: 09/09/2022

House of Darkness (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer/director Neil LaBute returns to his low-budget indie roots with House of Darkness, another brilliantly sly, slippery study of men and women, although it loses some of its power due to familiar genre conventions.

Hap Jackson (Justin Long) gives a ride home to a woman he has met at a bar. It seems as if he and Mina (Kate Bosworth) have hit it off nicely, but a subtle tension materializes when they arrive at her home, which is actually a huge, ancient-looking castle. Hap is invited inside, and when Mina goes to prepare drinks, Hap can't resist calling a friend and boasting of his conquest.

When Mina returns, their conversation continues in fits and starts, and then their kissing is interrupted by the appearance of a sister, Lucy (Gia Crovatin). As things start to slide more and more off-balance, Hap begins to realize that the evening he had hoped for is not going to happen.

Like LaBute's incendiary cinematic debut In the Company of Men (1997), House of Darkness uses just a few cast members, and minimal locations, to tell its story. The focus is on the writing, and the way in which power subtly, nervily flips back and forth between characters. Advances are made, confidently, and then rebuffed with sharp comments. The movie is at its best when Hap tries to be cool, keep the conversation going, be funny, be self-effacing, etc., and Mina seems to be one jump ahead of him, asking him quietly pointed questions, and diverting his intentions.

LaBute deliberately evokes Bram Stoker with the names "Mina" and "Lucy" and with other elements, but this effort doesn't really seem necessary, other than a clever way to market the film. Additionally, the ending, while shocking and effective, makes everything that came before it less impactful. House of Darkness does however embrace its low budget.

Both Long and Bosworth have been familiar faces in B movie-land in recent years, yet they have an opportunity to turn in career-best work here. Long takes his most ridiculous scene, the boasting phone call, and somehow makes it work, while Bosworth plays with quiet and menace and seems to relish it. All in all, this is a welcome return for LaBute, whose career wildly derailed after his infamous last stab at horror: The Wicker Man.

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