In 1997, Neil LaBute burst on the scene with his movie In the Company of Men, based on his play. It was a look into toxic masculinity before the term was even in the vernacular. Two businessmen of a corporation on assignment at a branch office in another city decide after having been rejected so many times by women to find someone they can woo and seduce, so they can dump her when they leave. It starred Aaron Eckhart and Matt Malloy who seduce a deaf co-worker played by Stacey Edwards.
In the end, they both mess with her but not before she becomes of aware of their scheme. The character played by Eckhart is the dominant one of the two men and he feels no remorse, whilethe Malloy character is ashamed of his actions. Wrecked with guilt, he visits Eckhart’s character at his apartment only to discover his colleague was lying about beind dumped by his girlfriend who is asleep in the next room. It was all a trick to get the Malloy character, who’s weaker, to go along.
It said a lot about how men 25-30 years acted and not much has changed. LaBute left out a passage in which Eckhart’s character recounts a time when he was a kid home sick and began to start masturbating. Yet, he didn’t know his mother was home early and was watching him in the bedroom doorway. She didn’t get angry at him but showed him her breasts until he had an orgasm. It might be disgusting, sick and perverted but it said more about the character.
For the most part, LaBute has been focusing his works, like them or not, on gender relations and masculinity as his works deal with misanthropic tones and characters. Even Nurse Betty, which was more of a dark comedy examined what happens when some people can’t blur the line between reality and make believe as Renee Zellweger thinks she’s a soap opera character in love with a character played by Greg Kinnear, who turns out to be a jerk in real life.
LaBute made the atrociously bad remake of The Wicker Man which became notorious for the unintentional comedy of Nicolas Cage’s performance as well as the implausible way you can pour bees into a funnel. “Not the bees!” was one of the first Internet memes. His recent work, House of Darkness, is intended to be a horror movie, but up until the last five minutes, it’s about 80 minutes of unnecessary and unpleasant talking.
The impresive poster art gives away the twist if you look at it a little closer but if you’re a fan of a certain horror genre, you ought to be able to tell when the third character enters the story. The story begins with a businessman, Hap Jackson (Justin Long), gives a ride home to Mina Murray (Kate Bosworth), a woman he met at a nearby bar. He’s surprised to see she lives in a castle-like estate. Yet, he doesn’t even know her name but he’s already bragging to a friend over the phone about what he thinks will happen.
They get to know each other some and begin to make out before Mina’s sister, Lucy (Gia Corvatin), appears in the room. And from there if you haven’t already guessed what’s about to happen, look at the two names of the sisters and ask yourself, what other famous horror story involves a castle and two woman named Mina and Lucy? This might have worked better as a short movie. I think one online review I saw said it’s a Tales from the Crypt story stretched too far out and I agree.
There’s a lot of talking and I mean, a lot of talking. A dream sequence Hap has offers a litle feeling the movie is going to be heading in a different direction, but once you realize its a dream, what little excitement you may have had is gone. I understand what LaBute, who wrote and directed, is trying to do. I just don’t feel like he’s doing his best, especially since the twist would be if it’s going in another direction than we thought such is the case with Baghead, another bad more.
The scenes play out so long I feel that LaBute is like a first-year college student stretching out his term paper to the word limit by repeating things over and over just by different wording. It’s not building tension and it’s not building tone. Yes, there is some unease in the beginning with the delivery between Long and Bosworth and Corvatin but it’s more like the scenes in Steve Jobs where Kate Winslet’s character keeps popping up to remind Michael Fassbender’s titular character that there’s so many more minutes before he’s needed on stage. You know this scene is going to go on a little longer and nothing is going to happen. That movie was written by Aaron Sorkin, another screenwriter and playwright.
Part of me feels this was started out as a play before LaBute realized he couldn’t do the dream sequence in a play effectively so he decided to make it into a movie. The problem is most playwrights don’t know how to make the transition from stage to screen. Long’s character is similar to the one he played in Barbarian and I must admit he does play these jerks very well. Bosworth and Corvatin become almost indintiguishable. All the tension that LaBute was trying to build between Long and Bosworth goes out the window when Corvatin comes on. It’s neither actress’ fault. Their characters are there to set up the twist. This movie could’ve been between Hap and Mina and the twist would’ve still had the same effect.
What do you think? Please comment.