neil labute has always been able to combine deep social commentary in every project, no matter the genre, since its debut in 1997 in the company of men. She has also had a passion for bram stoker world he created in “Dracula” and the theater. The writer and director can combine all three in his horror thriller. house of darknessa twist in Stoker’s story starring justin long as Hap Jackson, who takes his date Mina Murray (kate bosworth) to his home on a farm away from a bar. As the two get acquainted, Hap realizes that all is not what it seems. LaBute spoke with Bleeding Cool about how the film came to be and how Long and Bosworth are driving the narrative.
Bleeding Cool: What is the inspiration behind ‘House of Darkness’?
LaBute: Part of that was ‘Dracula:’ The idea of taking a piece of that Jonathan Harker story and updating it to something current. The other goes to my theater days. I like chamber pieces where you have people in one place. They spend a lot of time talking and creating tension. When COVID was rampant, we were looking for ways to do something with a small cast and crew. This story felt like an ideal one to tackle at the time.
Can you break down how the cast came together?
Justin came to us through one of the producers, and the producer had a connection with him. He liked the script and stayed with us for quite some time when we were trying to finance it. I also worked with him on stage for a charity play. I sent the script to Kate, who I also worked with previously, and she responded favorably. After joining, they immediately had good chemistry, which was important since they spent most of the movie together. When we were rehearsing, they clicked right away.
He referenced Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ as inspiration for ‘House of Darkness’ and also worked on the television series ‘Van Helsing’. Did the show have any kind of influence on the final result?
I think so because I spent a lot of time watching ‘Dracula’ during that. We used particular things from that text, and I also adapted it to the stage years before. I had a good number of connections, and it all helped. Anything you can do to investigate or make connections. [From that work], I was able to draw a parallel or sneak into a reference. It always helps to give a greater sense of texture to whatever you’re doing. He definitely brought all of that to ‘House of Darkness.’
Was it the most difficult in terms of pace and preparation until the end?
Good question. There is no part that is more difficult because you are always looking at the whole. When you are doing something like this where you have a limited number of locations or in this case one large location then you are touring this property. I’m trying to use it as cheaply but interestingly as possible. It’s a chess game of blocking out where you’re going, how much of this you’re going to play here, and where we’re going to move. We shot in Arkansas at a private residence, even in this limited location. There was this theory of, “We’re going to shoot here. We’re going to go out and do this.”
We are constantly at the mercy of the weather or shooting at night with the inherent environmental difficulties that come along. We were wondering what we should do and asked if we move this scene outside. For the sake of variety, we split this up and try to find a suitable location for it. [climactic] dream sequence was to be.
It’s all in the plot and planning when you move the chess pieces around the board. Could we bring in a third actor, and then one leaves and another shows up late in the game? It was about using the house to our advantage to create the feeling that this was not a play but a very controlled movie. That was the biggest thing for me because I spent a lot of time sitting down and talking straight, and how do you make that as interesting as possible?
Watching Justin and Kate’s interactions, there was a bit of social awkwardness. Was there any improvisation between the two, or was it all intentional from the script?
A lot of what was on the page was on the screen, and I’m pretty meticulous about creating dialogue that sounds natural and theatrical. It has its own personality, but we rehearsed and came to different passages. We were very rigid about the best material here, asking, “Is there anything that repeats itself? Is there anything that might go away? Is there anything that doesn’t move us forward?” They are moving, but it means creating a tension and moving on to the next idea.
All the actors were instrumental in coming up with ideas and ways to approach their characters. You want it to feel when you’re writing it, and it’s you who represents these characters in your head. They all sound like you, and when you get an actor to bring it to life, he creates something different and special. You want to give them that freedom to be able to say, “This works for me” or “This doesn’t work; let me try something.” I like improvisation, but I don’t think it’s the answer to everything either. You can create entire scenes and take a new form. It is often about creating bridges between ideas or a different twist on a line. Someone comes up with a great catchphrase for a scene. It was a mixture of both.
house of darknesswho also stars gia crovatin Y Lucy Waltersis in theatersdigital and on demand.