House of Darkness

House of Darkness begins with a couple in a parked car. Hap (Justin Long) thinks he's hit paydirt. He met this beautiful woman, Mina (Kate Bosworth), at a bar, and now she's asked him not only to drive her home, but to come inside, as well. Even better, she's clearly from a wealthy family, as the elegant old mansion she lives in indicates. Mina is extremely flirty, too, meaning he's probably going to get lucky.

They go inside for a drink or six. Hap thinks he saw someone else lurking around, but convinces himself it was just his own reflection in the mirror. The power being out, necessitating candlelight, does seem a bit odd. Nevertheless, the two exchange some basic background chit-chat about their lives. Although clearly a little on the randy side, Mina's tone grows slightly pointed over time. Hap doesn't care, especially once they begin making out. Then Mina's sister Lucy (Gia Crovatin) shows up and the evening takes a whole different turn.

Writer/director Neil LaBute is known for films that are misanthropic and that often address the cruelty bad men inflict upon women. In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things are two of the best examples. This time, he's working in the horror genre, although you wouldn't know it until the last few minutes, save for a disturbing dream Hap has after nodding off on the couch. We are, however, clued in via Bosworth's devilish performance that Mina is not quite what she seems. Her seductiveness is clearly an act, and Hap is falling for it hook, line, and sinker.

The dynamic created by the actors is the best thing about House of Darkness. Long and Bosworth nicely capture that awkward vibe between two people who have just met and are trying to feel each other out. Certain dialogue exchanges they take part in are sharply written. LaBute certainly knows how guys couch their language to present themselves as honorable while still making it clear they're up for carnal pleasures. As the scenario grows ominous, Long's performance appropriately conveys panic, demonstrating how Hap realizes he's not the one in control here, as he initially thought. It's very effective work from the actor.

The problem is that House of Darkness is almost all talk. Only at the very end does something overt happen. I found myself growing impatient, as the movie keeps treading the same ground, long after we've put it together that Mina is leading him on for some other purpose. When that purpose is finally revealed, it's not particularly original. Viewers are led to believe that the story is going to drop important insight into male toxicity, only to have it essentially conclude with, "Wow, men sure can be misogynistic assholes, huh?" Well, we gathered that long before the film got there. A great deal of build-up is given for a rather minimal payoff.

The two stars have what it takes to pull off a deeper theme. They're terrific, and they do keep House of Darkness moderately afloat during its frequent repetitive sections. Still, the fact remains that they're stuck in an obvious story whose ideas have been handled much more thoughtfully in several of LaBute's previous works. Sure, the last ten minutes offer a huge jolt. Getting there takes forever.

out of four

House of Darkness is rated R for some bloody violence/gore, sexual material, and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.