Driving home to her secluded estate after meeting at a local bar, a player out to score thinks his beautiful, mysterious date will be another casual hook-up. While getting acquainted, their flirtation turns playful, sexy and sinister. Hoping to get lucky, his luck may have just run out.

House of Darkness needs something of a qualification up front: this is a gothic drama first and a horror movie as a distant second. It certainly isn’t action packed, and has no interest in attempting to fill its run time with easy scares. What is on offer here is essentially a long conversation. Yet for the right audience, this will be its greatest strength rather than a potential weakness.  The writing is brilliantly sharp, being delivered by a small cast of talented actors easily capable of carrying all shades of menace and misdirection with very little movement. As conversation-lead as the feature is, the physicality remains a huge factor, if anything having to perform with minimal movement and load their performances into their body language is a showcase of skill far beyond a more conventional production for the cast here. It’s also frequently punctuated by moments of humour, sprinkled tactically across the runtime to reset tension levels.

The major twist is a relatively simple one, and easy to predict since it acts as the backbone of the whole premise. Characters named “Lucy” and “Mina” are especially vivid red flags for the genre savvy. Yet the delivery is everything here, not to mention the journey the protagonist takes. Justin Long’s hapless horny bar crawler never quite seems to realize how much danger he is in right up to the final moments of the story; that he is constantly at risk of saying or doing the wrong thing crafts a brilliant atmosphere of unease. While the games being played by the actresses opposite him are never quite clear until the finale, there’s a definite undercurrent of menace that’s constantly threatening to surface, and what the unknown consequences for unclear failures may be at any given moment crafts an impressively mysterious threat.

Writer/Director Neil LaBute is obviously a creative force to be reckoned with based on the strength of the script alone, but they’re equally accomplished when it comes to the visuals on offer here. “House of Darkness” is not metaphorical, the majority of the run time is set in the dark. Yet it never falls into confusion, the gorgeously gothic setting is always clear however obscured by shadow it may otherwise be. Subtle lighting effects of all forms are used to keep what LaBute chooses to show the viewer in full focus, with the ambient lighting of candles and open fires being masterfully utilized. All of this leads to the mansion feeling almost like its own character, itself helping guide the protagonist along to the grim conclusion of the verbal sparring he doesn’t even know his life depends upon.

While still somewhat sedate in pace, given that it is a cast of characters who can be counted on one hand chatting in the dark, the execution is everything here. Any one member of this cast or crew could elevate a given movie to a whole new level of entertainment, and they’re all playing off each other here to maximum effect. While it isn’t going to be genre redefining due to the limitations it is working within, it’s going to be a massive fan pleaser within its niche as a dark gothic drama with a supernatural sting in the tale.

We Watched House of Darkness as Part of the 2022 Grimmfest Line-up

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