While one might not connect Justin Long with the world of horror, the actor seems to have embraced the genre. Just this weekend, he stars in two separate horror flicks. Luckily, Long has the range to create very different characters and uses the opportunity in House of Darkness to truly embrace his scummy side. Directed by Neil LaBute, House of Darkness slowly turns up the temperature on the audience. By the time we realize the film’s true intentions, we have already boiled in the simmering tension created by LaBute.

LaBute also serves as the writer for a film focused on building atmosphere above all else. This allows House of Darkness to linger with our characters, letting natural dips and flows in conversation to become part of the text. As Hap (Long) discusses his life while spending the night with Mina (Kate Bosworth). The two seem to have little in common at first, but as they talk, they begin to bond and grow closer. However, Mina does not live alone.

Most of House of Darkness unfolds as a two-hander. Long and Bosworth have excellent chemistry but continue to stumble into awkward moments of conversation. This adds an authenticity that exposes a sexual tension lurking within the interaction. While its unclear how far Bosworth’s Mina wishes to take the relationship, Long’s Hap seems bent on fulfilling his sexual fantasies.

This dichotomy allows LaBute to frame the dialogue through extremely stilted perspectives. In every line, the characters needle at double entendre. However, the meaning of the wordplay becomes clear as the film progresses. House of Darkness never intends to sneak up on you with some crazy twist. Instead, it lets the audience in on the jokes, only to let us watch a character ignore every red flag thrown at them in favor of a night that was never going to happen. While we are quickly alerted that something is weird about this situation, it is not until the final moments of the film that we understand what kind of story we’ve wandered into.

Long takes on many solo scenes to the benefit of the team. He will often go minutes between lines with physical characters on screen. While this means we are privy to only one side of his phone calls, it does force Long to stretch himself as a performer, and he answers the call (literally and figuratively). The sequences that impressed the most were the ones where Long gets caught in lies. The way he evolves from a straight lie to a slight acknowledgment, to explain the problem away, seems to dominate his decision-making. He will not only do this while on the defensive but continues to use this strategy to explain away the weird things that keep happening in the house.

The straightforward nature of House of Darkness leaves us with much less to discuss. Long showcases himself as a smarmy player who tells half-truths. Bosworth’s agenda comes out through coded language, and once it’s obvious, we begin to wonder how long it will take other characters to understand. For LaBute, the successful film not only contains some genuinely scare sequences and crescendos in suburb fashion. It’s a masterful use of narrative, dialogue, and tension.

Alan’s Rating: 8/10

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