Director Neil LaBute’s new film House of Darkness (2022) will definitely make your skin crawl. You will likely feel gnawing at the back of your skull that tingles all the way down your spine as you watch Mina (Kate Bosworth) listen to the incessant yammering of Hap (Justin Long). At first, you may have thought that sensation was brought on by the atmosphere of the film and the setting in the gigantic rural mansion – but it won’t take long to realize it’s the constant jabber jawing of Hap that is truly making you so anxious.
Mina picked Hap up at a bar…or, maybe it was the other way around…and they have now ended up in Mina’s isolated mansion. Hap is clearly hoping for a good time, and Mina seems obliged to deliver on his expectation. There is nervous energy emanating from Hap, partially because of the location and partially because he is afraid of stepping on a landmine spewed from his own mouth that could blow up and destroy any chance he has of sealing the deal. Ultimately, that energy made me tenser than any of the horror trapping the film offers up.
Justin Long is often a film presence that brings a lot of laughs. His natural charm is present in this character, but he’s not designed to be liked. An early phone call made to his friend he left at the bar proves how much of a jerk Hap must be. In a giant house with no clear sense of where Mina is, Hap lays out his expectations and brags about his potential hook-up. He takes no precautions to make sure Mina doesn’t hear him because he is either too drunk, too arrogant, or just too stupid to conceive that possibility. Long’s performance is very strong, but the character grates on the audience non-stop throughout the film.
Bosworth’s character is the enigma. Hap ponders how she could have such a gigantic house and why she would bring him back to it, while we wonder how she could be so patient. While kissing on the couch, their flirtatious back and forth turns from playful and sexy to menacing. It’s one of the few moments that Hap shuts up, but a small nibble on his lip isn’t enough to shut down his machismo.
House of Darkness was an anxiety-inducing journey that was a little too much dialogue and not enough tension or horror overall. It takes a slow approach to a destination that is pretty obvious early on. While the performances are solid, I didn’t really appreciate wanting to yell at my TV for Hap to just stop talking already. House of Darkness earns the Decent Watch rating.