A night of flirting and drinking leads up to House of Darkness’ initial scene, featuring a coy couple exchanging smiles as Hap (Justin Long) anticipates more canoodling with Mina (Kate Bosworth) at her place. She invites him in and, immediately, he can’t believe her house which resembles a castle-style mansion. For some reason, he shrugs off the peculiar detail that it’s lit by several candlesticks and that Mina is dressed for a long-ago period, but it’s also suggested that Hap has a one-track mind. But then, the night becomes so strange that even Hap can’t ignore the change in atmosphere.
Director/screenwriter Neil LaBute’s last stab at horror was 2006’s infamous remake The Wicker Man. While that previous film doesn’t set a high bar to surpass, he certainly rises to the occasion with House of Darkness. LaBute leans more towards his experience as a playwright to find the film’s structure and finely tune line deliveries, and uses elements of folklore and urban legends to string together eerie vibes, gothic horror, and intriguing dialogue.
House of Darkness is a minor success, with “minor” only referring to the small scale of the production. The movie is a very simple, well-acted chamber piece that generates creepiness through its resourcefulness. Aside from an extended sequence that features an abandoned Hap wandering around never-ending caverns that feels ripped out of a nightmare, the film crafts its fear from the uncertainty of strangers; from Mina’s point-of-view as we see Hap make a sleazy phone call to one of his buddies, and then from Hap’s perspective as the intimacy is suddenly interrupted by other people around the house.
If you’re already anticipating Halloween and want to start curating your watchlist towards the horror genre, House of Darkness is a worthwhile hidden gem.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie