Playwright Neil Labute (“Fat Pig”) and prolific TV and film writer (In The Company of Men, Van Helsing) writes and directs his own reimagining of the Dracula legend, this time focusing on those that surround the Prince of Darkness rather than the bloodsucker himself.
Basically, a chamber drama that could have made for a good play, House of Darkness opens with a suited-up guy named Hap (Justin Long) driving home a mysteriously esoteric girl he met named Mina (Kate Bosworth). They arrive at her palatial castle estate (much to his surprise), where they spend some time bantering back in his car before heading inside.
Once they do, the two retreat to a sitting room complete with a grand fireplace and candles lit everywhere because, as Mina explains, “sometimes the power goes out.” The two have a very untypical first date, chatter with Mina being especially obtuse and curious. (She’s also dressed in an anachronistic white dress that would have looked pretty odd at a local bar.) On the other hand, Hap is the sort of typical bro, constantly blathering away, unable to stop talking. His nervous energy and awkward choices for date conversation only make Mina more curious and direct with her questions.
Hap, you see, is sort of that frat guy that is clearly hoping to bed the girl he met at the bar. But Mina is clearly aware and using his anxiety and expectation to get under his skin. When he sticks his foot in his mouth (and it’s frequent), she’s there to point it out and gently question his motives. At the same time, there is a slight air of menace to her behavior which, as is also typical with a “dude looking to get laid,” just excites Hap even more.
When Mina goes off to make them both drinks, Hap responds to a friend’s call and lets that guy know where he is and how he hopes the night will go. Here he reveals his true intentions (not that we couldn’t guess), but he proves he’s, well, pretty much a douche-bag.
Once Mina returns, she questions him about the phone call, and things get more awkward and more direct. Yet, somehow, Hap still hopes he’s going to get laid, and despite all signs that say Mina can see through him and she might not have the best intentions, he stays.
Suffice it to say, things will get super weird and awkward for Hap, and Mina won’t be the only one making that happen. To that end, this small and interesting film is not in any way that surprising. Since we are aware that this is a reimagining of “Dracula,” we know things will get a bit bloody.
What’s fascinating about it is how LaBute turns the film into a women empowerment study by zeroing in on some male behavior that is all too prevalent and familiar. This is really a look at male/female dynamics in a modern world, with a sinister bass line playing throughout.
Long is good here, but to be fair, his character gets a bit annoying, and this is the second jerk he’s played in a horror film this month. (The other being in “Barbarian.”) Didn’t he used to play the goofy, good guy? Bosworth does excellent work as the impenetrable Mina, and Gia Crovatin as her sister Lucy is a treat as well.
The sets are grand and gothic, and it all has an air of foreboding mystery. If only the script had real bite in the end. As it stands, it goes precisely where you expect and then ends. Done. Did any of the characters learn anything from each other? Who knows? But clearly, Dracula’s right-hand ladies will continue to Mad-Max their way across the world, teaching bad and clueless men the lessons they so need to be taught.