Your Daily Dracula – Kate Bosworth as Mina Murray, House of Darkness (2022)
Neil LaBute’s last venture into horror was the ill-received remake of The Wicker Man – which took on the challenge of making a story build up to what was once a twist ending but which is now as much general knowledge as what Rosebud is or who stabbed Marion in the shower. Here, he does something similar with a piece which is billed as a ‘reimagining’ of an unnamed Bram Stoker classic (no, it’s not The Lair of the White Worm) and signposts its ending from very early on with gothic trappings, character names and Kate Bosworth’s enigmatic smile.
It’s almost as if this film wants to blend in with regular genre fare so it can spring a trap … the title is as generic as it gets (there was a 1948 Laurence Harvey ghost story with that name – and a Lifetime true haunting TV movie in 2016), Justin Long plays a role very similar to his turn in the higher-profile Barbarian, and it’s the second Brides of Dracula homage of 2022 (after The Invitation). It’s not even LaBute’s first bash at Dracula, since he worked on the surprisingly long-running under-the-radar Van Helsing series (2016-21). So, what happens in the last act can hardly be classed as a surprise – which leaves LaBute in the position of letting us in the know so we can watch a main character fail to make connections that are screaming in our brains even if we went into the movie cold.
LaBute’s first movie, In the Company of Men, was about two mid-level corporate guys making a bet about seducing and making miserable a random woman – just for lulz. This is almost a book-end to that, with Hap Jackson (Long) coming across as the sort of self-styled nice guy who’d go on for that sort of thing but doesn’t realise that in this new round of the game he’s the patsy rather than the player. Ostensibly, what’s done to Hap is as cruel or moreso than the tactics of the In the Company of Men guys but it’s played more for black comedy than horror despite a mid-film break-up-the-theatrical-feel dungeon sequence that shows LaBute has honed his horror skills since The Wicker Man. This even has one witty, perfectly-judged jump scare.
Hap – who says his name is short for Hapgood – has offered to give a blonde he’s met in a bar a lift home, plainly hoping that the evening will continue with someone getting their brains fucked out on a chaise longue. However, Mina (Bosworth) – whose surname isn’t given until the end credits – lives in a literal castle in the woods, with iffy power but plenty of candles … wears a shroudlike white dress and doesn’t feel the cold … and deflects all his advances with teasing conversational games that tie him up in knots. When they kiss, Hap cuts his lip on her teeth and even without mentioning the v-word everyone in the audience knows what she is and what her idea of a happy ending might be.
Sounds and shadows and corner-of-the-eye glimpses suggest they’re not alone, but Mina refuses to confirm or deny simple things – until her sister Lucy (Gia Crovatin) shows up to interrupt just before some oral action takes place, which means Hap is now ping-ponging between two women who encourage him to hit on them then make fun of his increasingly clumsy attempts to impress. And, just in case you forgot there were three brides of Dracula, Lucy Walters is in the cast list as Nora (making an L-M-N sisterhood) … and it becomes apparent that what we’re seeing is a reimagining of one particular scene from Dracula, and maybe there is a twist after all in that no one is listed as playing a Count who might swoop in protectively with ‘this man is mine’ unless we take the credited but absent LaBute himself as Dracula in this scenario.
As a gothic charade, this has echoes of such 1970s battle-of-the-sexes horrors as Daughters of Darkness, Death Game (remade by Eli Roth as Knock Knock) and (especially) Queens of Evil … but LaBute is also riffing on #metoo, microaggressions, toxic masculinity, genre knowitalls, incels, and a whole poison cocktail of this-is-where-we-are ills.
Judging by the sound of your plot synopsis, it sounds a bit like one of. the flicks this film is riffing on is Jean Rollin’s Fascination, too. Could I be wrong? I’ll find out when I watch House of Darkness.