House of Darkness, 2022.
Written and Directed by Neil LaBute.
Starring Justin Long, Kate Bosworth, Gia Crovatin, and Lucy Walters.
Driving home to her secluded estate after meeting at a local bar, a player out to score thinks his beautiful, mysterious date will be another casual hook-up. While getting acquainted, their flirtation turns playful, sexy and sinister. Hoping to get lucky, his luck may have just run out.
In House of Darkness (the second Neil LaBute film this month and a wildly more entertaining slice of sleazy camp than the recent Out of the Blue), Justin Long’s chauvinistic Hap is 37 steps behind the audience, and Mena (a mysteriously and ethereal Kate Bosworth), which is precisely why this genre work is a diabolical blast. Hap cluelessly believes he is successfully seducing Mena when he is actually being psychologically toyed with for her and our amusement.
Starting the story after a night out of drinking where these two befriend one another (but not before an ominous “once upon a time” graphic graces the screen), the buzzed Hap has driven Mena back to her home. Now, this abode happens to be a middle-of-nowhere gothic manner that would send chills down the spine of any reasonable person, but Hap is too busy thinking with his dick to run, especially since Mena is insisting he come inside for a chat.
Hap also obliges partly because Mena doesn’t seem like other modern girls or types populating his office space, which is really just code for him harboring active disdain for movements like Me Too, feminism, and cancel culture (there’s a scene where he is being told the story where some lives are upended by men, giving a priceless reactionary groan as soon as it’s implied they are the villains of the tale). There is no mask or second-guessing that Hap is a creep looking to take sexual advantage of a drunken woman, but that doesn’t stop him from thinking he is slick and desirable and that his actions are okay.
Admittedly, this character type is low-hanging fruit for mockery, but Justin Long inhabits the role with slimy hilarity. When Mena investigates a power outage (another occurrence that would have any rationally thinking person trying to leave), Hap answers a phone call from a seemingly equally misogynistic friend and brags about this woman’s beauty (adorned in a white dress that, while it is a gorgeous fit, feels out of place in contemporary times and as if something else is going on), his potential to get laid, and grossly shows a willingness to take pictures to share with him.
However, it is impossible to believe that Hap has the upper hand for one second, as he is clearly being suckered into something dangerous. The rat-a-tat banter between Hap and Mena paints the latter as smarter while also picking apart the former’s personality. There’s an awkwardly amusing tone throughout House of Darkness, which sees Mena turning suggestive statements around on Hap while giving him just enough false hope that the night will end in sexual pleasure. Simultaneously, Mena is also giving Hap enough rope to hang himself, effectively digging his own grave (metaphorically realized in one visually compelling sequence).
There are some creative decisions that appear to drag out the inevitable more than provide anything substantial, such as another sister showing up. The fitting joke here is that Hap believes his night will double in eroticism by stumbling into an incestuous three-way, but the one-on-one dialogue here is lacking compared to the mind games Mena is playing. Neil LaBute is also wise enough to take these conversations into different areas of the manor for some refreshing backgrounds, and for the most part, the setting is quite eerie.
One might be questioning what the point in watching House of Darkness might be if the story and trajectory of the narrative are apparent from the beginning, so rest assured there are some fun surprises (ones that succinctly sum up the motivations of these sisters). More importantly, the payoff is incredibly satisfying and doesn’t hold back in terms of gore. Justin Long and Kate Bosworth also nail their roles, ensuring that the journey there is twisted fun.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]