Review by Sean Boelman
Neil LaBute doesn’t exactly have the most reliable filmography, with more duds (The Wicker Man) than he has hits (In the Company of Men), yet even his less-accomplished films manage to be thoroughly watchable. Thankfully, his newest movie — and second 2022 release — House of Darkness, is a relative high in his filmography.
The film follows a man who takes home an attractive woman who he meets at the bar, only to discover that her intentions may be more sinister than he initially thought. It’s the type of movie that you think you know exactly where it is heading, then it catches you off-guard, only for it to end up exactly where you thought it was going in the first place — but it’s a lot of fun to take the ride regardless.
This is primarily a three-hander between Long, Bosworth, and Gia Crovatin. It screams COVID production because of its confined nature, but its sharply-written dialogue makes it feel like it’s at a much larger scale than it actually is. LaBute’s script builds tension really nicely up to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion.
Long is typically pretty charming in his roles, but here, he gets to play a character in the exact opposite direction — a total douche. He absolutely encapsulates all of the chauvinistic qualities of the archetype he is portraying. And in her supporting role, Bosworth channels the femme fatale, albeit with an interesting twist.
The film deals with themes of toxic masculinity and misogyny. And while it hardly handles the topics as well as something like Promising Young Woman, it approaches them about as well as a movie written and directed by a man on the topic could. Don’t come in expecting anything resembling subtlety, but if you’re looking for a very blunt satire, this is pretty effective.
That said, the film’s big downfall is its character development. Long’s character obviously isn’t supposed to be all that likable, but Bosworth and Crovatin’s aren’t particularly sympathetic either. It seems as if LaBute was trying to do a “shifting allegiances” type of storyline, but he failed miserably at doing so.
LaBute really takes advantage of the gothic-like setting of the massive mansion. For a movie that is essentially three people sitting around a fireplace and talking, it’s shockingly captivating. There are a handful of moments in which the film aims to do something much more ambitious, and those aren’t the most impressive, but thankfully, they are pretty few in number.
House of Darkness is far from perfect, but as a sub-ninety minute chamber piece, it’s pretty entertaining. Neil LaBute’s script and Justin Long’s performance are both highlights, making this a movie that genre cinephiles should check out.
House of Darkness hits theaters on September 9 and VOD on September 13.