Neil LaBute mastered the cinematic art of sexual politics long before “Me Too” entered the lexicon.
LaBute’s “In the Company of Men,” followed by the nasty “Your Friends & Neighbors,” defined his early career until clunkers like “The Wicker Man” remake and the unseen “Dirty Weekend” slowed his roll.
So it makes sense his latest project, “House of Darkness,” revisits his early themes through a MeToo-approved filter.
What’s missing? A story eager to grab us and a central character worth our disdain.
Meet Hap (Justin Long). He met a gorgeous woman at a bar named Mina (Kate Bosworth), and he graciously gave her a ride home. Chivalry isn’t dead.
Even better for him? She doesn’t want the night to end there.
She all but drags him into her spacious home, or rather castle. That’s important for several reasons we won’t spoil here.
Hap and Mina drink and flirt and flirt some more, but why does he keep seeing images out of the corner of his eyes?
Let’s be clear. LaBute couldn’t make “In the Company of Men” today … unless The Daily Wire or another unwoke company forked up the cash. So he reverse engineered the sexual dynamics to fit Hollywood’s new agenda.
Cowardly? Perhaps. Then again, why would LaBute revisit his greatest hits? Been there, crushed that.
What’s clear is “House of Darkness” is a slog with a finale that, while shocking, doesn’t justify the wait. The film’s restrictive settings – much of the story happens in a single room – hardly help. Nor does endless banter that feels like it’s playing on a condescending loop.
It’s interesting to hear LaBute reveal the new dating rules, from Hap’s overly accommodating mien to the wolf lurking below the surface. The director is plugged into today’s dating culture, but it doesn’t make “House of Darkness” any more engaging.
We get the cut of Hap’s jib early on, so every new line proves disposable. Except Hap’s shtick is meant to carry the movie.
House of Darkness, 2022: Official poster
“A man is invited to a mysterious woman’s home for a nightcap after meeting at a local bar, but the evening doesn’t follow the usual path toward seduction once they step through her front door.”
Starring Justin Long and Kate Bosworth. pic.twitter.com/Mvk4DUj9tv
— Fear Catalogue (@FearCatalogue) July 27, 2022
Long’s casting presents both an opportunity and a problem. The actor’s puppy dog demeanor, think likable Joes in “Jeepers Creepers” and “Drag Me to Hell,” makes audiences rally by his side. Hap is so wildly insincere, though, that he quickly loses our trust.
Fine. Good. That’s partially the point. Now, you’re stuck with a deeply unpleasant character tasked with carrying the film. You’ll wish Jason, Freddy or Pinhead would take him out, stat.
Instead, we get even more unctuous dialogue, all devised to make himself sound like the good guy.
He’s not a monster, just a fraud. Nor does he post a threat to Mina, but if she leads him on he’ll gladly oblige.
Harvey Weinstein, he ain’t.
That dynamic, plus a near complete lack of surprise, sinks “House of Darkness.” There’s little to be alarmed about beyond one neat jump scare. And the film’s resolution hardly merits the protracted build-up even though the running time is, on paper, a crisp 90 minutes.
Equally murky? The power dynamic favors Mina, who has control over every aspect of their potential one-night stand. Her beauty, and orchestrated mystery, keep Hap off balance from the very first exchange.
That connects to superior films like “Promising Young Woman,” which also assumed men were potential savages. That film boasted a strong turn from Carey Mulligan and some intriguing twists.
“House of Darkness” has just one card up its sleeve, and anyone who can’t take an educated guess at it just isn’t trying.
HIT or Miss: Neil LaBute’s knack for exploring sexual politics fails him in the flat genre exercise “House of Darkness.” It also packs the most generic title in recent memory.