Movie review: ‘House of Darkness’ seduces with witty, sinister banter

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Hap (Justin Long) stays at Mina (Kate Bosworth)’s castle in “House of Darkness.” Photo courtesy of Saban Films

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 8 (UPI) — Some would say all Neil LaBute movies are terrifying. House of Darkness, in theaters Friday, has more official horror trappings, with the same style of dialogue exploring gender dynamics.

Hap (Justin Long) and Mina (Kate Bosworth) arrive at Mina’s family’s remote castle after they’ve met at a bar, though they don’t say their names for a good 30 minutes. What begins as flirtatious, seductive banter gradually suggests something deadlier may be afoot.

Like LaBute’s stage plays and other relationship dramas, House of Darkness revolves around the dialogue between a man and woman sussing out each other. LaBute’s words are acerbic as ever and perhaps more focused, too.

From the moment they arrive, Hap believes their meeting went well. Mina seems indifferent, but she’s going along with him because it’s worth a try.

As a woman who’s clearly been hit on or picked up before, Mina catches Hap off-guard with everything she says. She’s condescending enough to let Hap know she won’t fall for games, but not enough to lose him.

Besides, Mina’s self-assurance is part of the attraction. She keeps him bumbling through their getting-to-know-you dance, but she doesn’t kick him out for saying the wrong thing.

To Hap, this counts as seduction, but it’s clear to the audience that Mina has the upper hand from the beginning. She’s playful, but also sinister.

A viewer would be correct to suspect, based on the title, genre, claim to inspiration from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the its general vibe that this is not just a date. Plus, Long always seems to find himself in horror movies.

Without spoiling Mina’s true objective, the setup draws one in with its prickly dialogue. The lights are out and it’s a dark, unfamiliar castle, so the audience is in Hap’s position.

Some may call House of Darkness “talky.” It’s still a Neil LaBute movie, but it doesn’t shortchange the payoff.

And it’s more than a two-hander, but the additional characters are a surprise. Bosworth seems to relish putting a guy like Hap through the paces on behalf of all women who have suffered through men’s bravado.

Long has two good horror movies this month with House of Darkness and Barbarian. Both are also mysterious enough that you don’t want to know much more before you watch.

House of Darkness will be available on video-on-demand Tuesday on Apple TV, iTunes, Prime Video, VUDU, Redbox and other leading providers.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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