Neil La Bute Films, as a rule, have similar properties. The gifted playwright is good with words, so his screenplays are intelligent and snappy. He’s also interested in how men and women interact and how corrosive the battle of the sexes can be. His films are often full of unlikable characters who engage in heinous behavior, and he loves black humor that goes hand-in-hand with his penchant for exploring controversial and disturbing topics.
LaBute’s latest, house of darkness, contains almost all of these elements. The film begins with a man (Justin Lang) and a woman (Kate Bosworth) arrives at her remote country home, which quickly turns out to be a mansion. They’re relatively strangers: They met in a downtown bar, he drove her home, and she invited him over.
It is immediately clear that something is going on. Long’s character is an awkward talker who constantly puts his foot in his mouth, says the wrong thing, and then desperately rows back. With her ethereal long blonde hair and white lace dress, Bosworth’s character looks like she stepped out of a period movie. Throughout the film, she is the one in control of both the conversation and the situation.
The film is driven almost entirely by dialogue, not action. The entire first act takes place in a single room, and although LaBute wrote house of darkness To be a film, it’s easy to think of it as a stage production.
The resulting conversation covers the usual territory, including his work, assets, and their respective marital statuses. More importantly, it shines a light on their respective personalities: she’s sexy, mysterious, and honest, while he’s dark, horny, and a “hoax.” Truth and intentionality are essential themes of the film; Dialogue revisits both as the night unfolds.
To say more would spoil the fun of the film, but not its surprises, of which there are few. This is not a complaint: house of darkness taps the hand very early and then conveniently plays out exactly as expected with no subversion or deviation.
The result is a dialogue-heavy film that features a handful of actors in an isolated setting. It’s also only 83 minutes long, although even that short running time may pose a challenge for some. One could argue that this is a joke film: a premise befitting of a short film stretched to feature length. The “revelation” (if it can even be considered one) occurs before the twenty minute mark, which makes the rest of the film seem endless to some because it’s so obvious.
Genre-savvy listeners will have no trouble picking up the contextual cues, but that’s the point. LaBute doesn’t try to hide what’s happening or who Bosworth’s character is. In fact, most of the film’s comedy emerges from this confirmation. It’s obvious what’s going on with everyone but Long’s character. He’s too busy absorbing the strangeness of the situation, his date’s combative behavior and the many many red flags because he believes this beautiful creature is worth sleeping with.
house of darkness is not interested in surprising; The film – and LaBute – plays with the audience’s awareness of the situation to poke fun at how stupid Long’s character is. The litmus test for enjoying the film is simply whether you’re happy watching (repeatedly) a dimwitted man being played because he’s so busy having sex that he doesn’t realize he’s already on ass is.
Viewers who get to partake in this bold experiment will find much to enjoy, particularly the strength of the two leads and LaBute’s trademark wry humor. Long excels at playing a fumbling jerk who’s too busy pondering his dick to realize – or admit – to the danger. With his limp hair and generic office attire, this character is a stand-in for any man who’s staked a bar for a casual, drunken hookup.
Compare that to Bosworth who is a real delight. The actress perfectly captures the mysterious, sexy and playful qualities of the character. Her facial reactions when she listens to Long’s character, pushes against it, or traps him in a “fibbery” are very amusing. This is ensured by the interaction of these two main performances – both sexually and linguistically house of darkness is never boring.
The light premise and chatty production make sure of that house of darkness is a film that doesn’t work for everyone. But there’s also something admirable about LaBute’s cocky confidence: it’s a big risk to telegraph everything from the start and then stay the course (it certainly wouldn’t work without LaBute’s incredible dialogue skills and the strong performances of both leads).
For viewers who can accept the obvious and the inevitable is the joke, house of darkness makes for a hilarious, occasionally campy, often hilarious date night.