Even those of us long in on the joke of Neil Labute’s He Man Woman Haters Club dramedies, ironic depictions of toxic masculinity wrapped in male affirmation, have to find “House of Darkness” a trial.
His latest horror riff on emasculated men and emasculating women — remember, he was entrusted with “The Wicker Man” remake, and turned it into a misogynistic mess — is a a thoughtfully half-baked attempt to graft his big themes onto what is obviously a vampire’s revenge, pretty much from the moment we read its title.
“House” is like a filmed play with misandric and misogynistic subtexts, and might be the talkiest 88 minute movie in history. No kidding, Justin Long. If you weren’t paid by the word here, you need a better agent. Or accountant.
Cinematically-static if well-acted, and dramatically-flat throughout, it’s an end-of-the-date story of gamesmanship, competing agendas and differing interpretations of what’s going on in a coupling towards copulation sense.
It’s a #MetToo movie with fangs, dull fangs. Labute, who gained fame with his brutal satire “In the Company of Men,” set out to sell a “Men are from Mars, Women are from Transylvania” version of the battle of the sexes. It doesn’t work.
Long plays a BMW’d social climber who takes the lovely Mina (Kate Bosworth) home to her remote “castle” after meeting in a bar.
He is right on the cusp of chivalrous, offering to walk her to her door, seeing as how “dark” and “scary” this corner of nowhere is to a city guy. Then he’s got to be getting back, he insists. No expectations, no “come in for a drink” pretexts presumed. He is persuaded to change his mind.
“Lead the way,” he enthuses. “I have been, ever since we met,” she says.
No, he doesn’t know her name at this point, or she his. But we can hear what a Chatty Cathy he is, talking himself into rhetorical corners where he admits he “fibs” a lot, among other things.
“How did we get on this subject?”
“To make you uncomfortable.“
Abnd we can see that she has the cocksure confidence of a beautiful blonde, “forward,” and not coy about it. She has him inside, sitting by the fire, sipping wine and talking away before he knows it.
The dialogue of their little mating pas de deux, with him questioning her about the house, property and the family and her testing him, is the best thing in the film, even if Labute is anything but subtle about what he’s doing with it.
“‘Sexy,’ he calls her, with an “Is that OK to say any more without setting the women’s rights movement back too far?” proviso.
The “filmed play” touches come from the obvious melodramatics — characters disappearing off camera, others abruptly appearing for “shock” value, our “hero” dozing off and having on-the-nose nightmares when he does This clunker is so tediously theatrical — told in what feels like (never-ending) real-time — you can practically hear the coughs, yawns and squirming in the seats of a theater audience as you’re watching it.
And the payoff, when it comes, is both expected and so gory and over-the-top that if “Barbarian” doesn’t end up being a new horror pigeonhole for Long’s career, “House of Darkness” could see to that.
I’ve followed Labute since the beginning of his career. Plucking his themes out of whatever stories he choses to tell, in whatever genre, is a favorite game among critics. But with this and with his almost-as-disappointing “Out of the Blue,” you have to wonder if his hot button issue/cutting edge days are gone, or if his favorite “hot button” — men standing up for masculinity — isn’t as out of date as the TV series he’s just finished filming, “American Gigolo.”
Rating: R, graphic violence, sexual situations, profanity
Cast: Justin Long, Kate Bosworth, Gia Crovatin and Lucy Walters
Credits: Scripted and directed by Neil Labute. A Saban Films release.
Running time: 1:28