Writer-Director Neil LaBute Interview: House Of Darkness


WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the movie, “House of Darkness.”House of Darkness, the latest spooky story from acclaimed writer Neil LaBute, is currently available on Demand and Digital release. After hitting it off with a woman he met at the bar, a player drives her home to her secluded estate, hoping to get lucky. However, things only get stranger as the film goes on, and the night takes a turn he never could’ve expected.

The film stars Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers, New Girl), Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns, Blue Crush), Gia Crovatin (I Feel Pretty), and Lucy Walters (Tesla).

SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

Writer-Director Neil LaBute chats with Screen Rant about the inspiration behind his horror film and centering it around a “nice guy” character.

Screen Rant: What was the inspiration behind House of Darkness? What made you want to write it?

Neil LaBute: Well, I’ve done a lot of theater in my day, and I love really controlled environments like that. And I’ve done a few films that were kind of chamber pieces as well. I had written this, and it really was kind of springboarded off the idea of, “What if I write a bad date and take it in a direction like this,” rather than, “It’s just a bad date, it’s maybe the worst date, you could have.” And so having that, and then being in a time when we were looking to make something that was very controlled and had a small cast and few locations, it was just kind of an ideal fit in terms of having the script. Sometimes I find myself in places where I’ve done this in the past.

I did a movie called Some Velvet Morning a few years ago that Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve did. And it could have been on the stage, it could have been on film—I just ultimately made a movie and didn’t do it on stage. So this is something that I’ve looked into. I probably could have staged this, as well. But like I said, it was a great time to make a movie out of something like this. So having that really controlled environment was a blessing when we were dealing with COVID and all that, and not being like a “COVID movie,” but just made during those times, and it just fit the bill for what we were looking for. But in terms of wanting to write it, I just liked the idea of taking the audience on a ride that feels like, “Oh, this is going to go in one direction,” and then taking them in a very different direction by the time you get to the end of it.

Screen Rant: Expanding on this being a chamber piece, did you have to do anything special in regard to blocking or dialogue because of the setting?

Neil LaBute: Yeah. Because it’s a limited setting, you want to think very carefully about how it’s all hugely important to you. How am I going to use this house? How am I going to use this setting? How long can we stay in this room? When should we move into another space? Why are they moving? Let’s say you have people over to your house. You can sit in one room for two hours and talk and somebody might get up and go to the kitchen or whatever, but you’re not just constantly moving to keep it “interesting.”

In a movie or theater, it often feels like, “Well, people just move around because I want to keep the picture moving or interesting for the audience,” believing that they won’t just sit and listen to people. And I have always felt like, “Yeah, if it’s good enough, they will.” I will. I know as a viewer. So it was important with the actors to really get a sense of—why are we moving now? Why are we going outside? What do we have at this house that we can utilize, and how are we going to use it to its best advantage? And then practical stuff that comes up. It’s going to rain tonight. We were going to go outside. Should we still go outside, or should we stay inside? Just a lot of sometimes mundane, sometimes artistic things that go into this.

Screen Rant: Like you were saying, so much of the creep factor and the eeriness is based around the dialogue and the conversation. You can’t lean on jump scares in a film like this. Was there anything challenging about that aspect?

Neil LaBute: I think, for Justin, it was probably maintaining the delicate kind of calibration of going from a “nice guy” which he calls himself several times in various ways, to a guy where…I think some people in the audience will be like, “Oh, boy, did he get what he deserved.” That he couldn’t be killed fast enough for some people’s taste. I think, when you have a guy like Justin Long carrying in a certain amount of goodwill, people just like see him in a magazine, and they’re like, “Oh, that guy makes me laugh. He’s funny. He’s nice.” You have that coming in and so you can allow that character to say a lot of stuff.

Otherwise, somebody else might put you off immediately, but you look at him and go, “Oh, he’s just nervous. He’s just this.” We make excuses for people that we like. And so he had to go from being that guy who, “Oh, I didn’t want to come inside. I just wanted to drop you off,” to being a guy who, even at the moment where it looks like, “You might not make it out of there alive,” he’s still angry and petulant and at least he feels like he’s totally still in control. And so that’s quite a distance to travel in ninety minutes. Getting Justin to land all those places in between is important, and so we spent some time trying to make that happen.

Screen Rant: Was there anything else that you were trying to accomplish with making this character, you know, not necessarily the best guy?

Neil LaBute: I think I wanted to create that kind of gray area where, if you were looking at this as a typical date film, if you reverse this, and she was at his house, you’d be worried for her in a certain way, but I don’t think you’re worried for him in the same way. Even though you look at her, and you’re like, “There’s something about her. What’s with the long hair? What’s with that dress? Look at this house that she lives in.”

All your flags should be up but, he just keeps breezing in there because he even says, “She’s weird, but she’s so attractive.” So he just keeps being led by something other than his brain to go into this house and get himself in the place that he’s in. But all the time, he sort of feels like he’s in charge, and so I think that’s saying something about that kind of masculine blindside that men can have, of they’re in charge. They’re in control. And how that, when put into the auspices of a horror movie, anything can go that could change in an instant.

Screen Rant: So where was this filmed? Was this a set? Was this on location?

Neil LaBute: The location was a private home in Arkansas.

Screen Rant: Oh, wow.

Neil LaBute: Yeah, well, it’s for sale if you’re at all interested [laughs]. A guy who’s a manufacturer of, like, molding, you know? Millwork. All the wood that you can see in the house, that’s the kind of work that he has done in the past and made some kind of fortune from. And he built this kind of American representation of a Scottish castle in Arkansas, and we saw that it was available to film at. We thought it gave the kind of Gothic-feel without feeling like, “Oh, here we are in some, obviously 18th century home.” It still had the trappings of feeling like a modern house and so…vaguely creepy without being outright spooky.

House of Darkness Synopsis

After meeting at a local bar, a man accompanies a beautiful and mysterious woman back to her luxurious and secluded estate. However, he soon gets more than he bargained for when their playful flirtation turns into something sinister.

Check out our other House of Darkness interview with stars Gia Crovatin and Lucy Walters.

House of Darkness is currently available on Demand and Digital September 13th.

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