Swirling with notes of dark romance and dagger-sharp conversations, Santa Barbara International Film Festival selection House of Darkness is an eerie delight. Once the mystery element is solved, it may be painfully obvious where this is headed, but it doesn’t make it any less fun to watch. The banter between Justin Long and Kate Bosworth is delightful, and the duo play off one another, accompanied by a sinister edge. Directed by Neil LaBute (Lakeview Terrace, 2006’s Wicker Man remake), House of Darkness makes for a seriously tasty horror/comedy treat.
It takes a full half hour into this movie for the audience to be properly introduced to our two main characters: Hap (Justin Long), a flirty business consultant, and Mena (Kate Bosworth), a mysterious and alluring wealthy woman who owns a massive castle deep in the country. Having picked her up from a bar, Hap jumped at the chance to drive home a woman this beautiful. Now, Mena invites Hap inside for a drink. The extravagance of her home seems almost too good to be true on top of everything else. Mena warns that the house is “old and dark and full of memories.” Hap fondly banters with her, thinking only of one thing: a chance to fuck her brains out on a beautiful couch in front of a roaring fireplace, in his own words.
The opening scene, in which the gate to the house creaks open as they pull in, sets the stage for an effective and fun ride. Upon entering, Mena says the electricity goes out sometimes. Hap thinks he sees a woman in the mirror and hears strange sounds every so often, sending up red flags. For Hap, a red flag or two isn’t enough to send him running for the hills. He decides to feel it out and see how the night goes, as the strange factor gets amped during the duo’s various conversations. Is he married? Is Mena housing a big secret? She repeats several times that she never lies, but how can she be trusted?
When Mena’s backstory is eventually revealed, it culminates in a satisfying explosion of gore. I was anxiously waiting for the reveal to happen as the movie progressed. I cannot say I was surprised, but I don’t think House of Darkness makes any effort to hide its true intentions either. The whole affair is relatively straightforward with a minimal amount of twists; the focus instead is on characters and their banter together. The script overflows with sharp singers, and when it calls for the horror to kick in, LaBute delivers big-time.
House of Darkness is tailor-made for any lover of Justin Long—I know he was the primary draw for me giving it a chance at the fest. It marks a welcome return to horror for Long, who has previously done both Jeepers Creepers 1 and 2, Tusk, and Drag Me to Hell. Kate Bosworth has done one pure horror film that I loved: 2016’s Before I Wake. Her edgy performance as Mena makes her the perfect embodiment of a typical “mystery woman,” and the creepiness of the house accentuates her performance. Even when the script is busy checking off various genre boxes, it never forgoes the vital ingredient: the chemistry between Bosworth and Long. Undoubtedly spun from the pandemic thanks to its limited setting and pared-down cast, House of Darkness ends up being dark, intense, and engaging from start to finish.
House of Darkness debuted at the 2022 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.