With his latest film, “House of Darkness,” LaBute tries something similar to “The Wicker Man.” And while the results may not be nearly as outlandish this time around, they make for an exciting and at times quite witty battle of the sexes, where not all of the bloodshed is strictly metaphorical.
As the film opens, a car with a couple inside approaches a large house in the middle of nowhere. Hap (Justin Long) and Mina (Kate Bosworth) met earlier in the evening at a bar in town, and being a “decent guy”, Hap has volunteered to drive Mina home out of the alleged goodness of his heart. But it’s pretty clear that he hopes the evening ends with something more than a pat on the head. Mina invites him in, but it’s quickly apparent that guys like Hap are no stranger to her; she has a way of twisting almost every line of his smug slap at him, always leaving him on the defensive. And yet, Hap is so confident in playing ability that he continues his seemingly low-pressure pursuit. Even after the point where she asks him if he’s married and he falls for the answer as badly as possible.
Between the drinks already in his system (which didn’t stop him from driving her home), the glass of Maker’s Mark in hand, and the focus on getting Mina to bed, it doesn’t quite register with Hap that the situation he’s in. in i is even stranger that it appears. For starters, the house—one of several that Mina claims her family owns—is literally a castle that practically oozes gothic atmosphere everywhere you turn. There’s also the fact that despite Mina’s insistence that they’re alone, there are also sounds and movements that suggest someone else (or something…) is lurking in the darkness caused by the faulty electricity. This is partly explained by the sudden appearance of Lucy (Gia Crovatin), Mina’s sister, but strange things continue to happen as the night goes on. Not that Hap notices – at one point he makes a sort of pass to Lucy while Mina is gone for a few minutes, though many horndogs – at least those with a literary bent – may have picked up the hint suggested by their respective names and in the smallest tried to escape from the premises.
There is a twist in the final act, but LaBute’s script doesn’t really build on it in a conventional way, and most viewers will have figured it out well before the half-hour mark. In a way, it serves as a kind of companion piece to his previous feature, last month’s neo-noirOut of the blue,” in how that story plays with genre conventions of all but announcing the arrival of a major twist and then deliberately stretching out the time until he finally implements it in the expected way. In “Out of the Blue,” the conceit doesn’t work because it’s honestly impossible to believe that the protagonist didn’t see what was in store for him, even though he pretended to be knowledgeable about the trappings of noir storytelling. But the gambit works this time, as Hap is so fundamentally ignorant of what’s going on that he doesn’t even recognize the kind of story he’s really in until it literally blows down his neck (so to speak), inspiring some dark humorous moments.