'House of Darkness' review: Snappy dialogue can't save sluggish chamber piece
Courtesy of Saban Films
About 45-minutes into the new Neil LaBute joint “House of Darkness,” Justin Long’s derpy, finance bro appropriately named Hap, who is hoping to hook up with Kate Bostworth’s seductive and wealthy Mina, says to her: “I can’t read you yet.”
Funny, I thought the same thing about the movie at this point.
LaBute, returning to the directing chair after a seven year hiatus, knows how to write snappy dialogue (“Nurse Betty” and “In The Company of Men”) and keep things moving. Or so I assumed as “House of Darkness” is a tedious, 88-minute slog that goes nowhere. Here’s a movie that hooks the viewer with the promise of some grand reveal in the closing minutes. There’s a grand reveal, yes, but it’s almost like a slap in the face, because anyone could have predicted it from a mile away. At least the 2006 remake of “The Wicker Man” (directed by LaBute) was silly and goofy enough to where nobody would have taken it seriously. The problem with “House of Darkness” is that it asks you to invest in a premise and then gives zero payoff. And it also wants to be taken seriously.
LaBute brings his expansive playwrighting background to this chamber piece that reflects a seemingly innocent one-night stand between Hap and Mina before swerving into a third act bait-and-switch. Hap is only interested in Mina for sex and doesn’t see her as a real person, while Mina has other, er, plans for her suitor. In the brief opening scenes that introduce Hap, it becomes apparent he’ll do anything to score: lying, flirting and twisting the truth about his recent “separation.” Long, to his credit, chews up LaBute’s snappy dialogue opposite Bosworth who sits and stares contently, watching this lustful schmuck dig himself into a hole and ignoring several red flags. Again, you won’t be shocked by what inevitably happens.
The film's cheeky deconstruction of the male ego is occasionally intriguing thanks to Long and Bosworth's dialed in performances, but the sluggish game LaBute plays with the pacing and reveals are more artificial than titillating. The director, by playing with the power dynamics of these characters, seems to allude towards something bigger, until he doesn’t. Instead of giving audiences a “Malignant” level bombshell, “House of Darkness” settles for a generic, low-stakes narrative that barely has enough juice (and gore) to cross the finish line.
Saban Films will release HOUSE OF DARKNESS in Theaters September 9, 2022 and on Demand and Digital September 13, 2022.