House Of Darkness Director Neil LaBute Doesn’t Mind Cheating Audiences [Exclusive Interview]

Whenever you venture into horror, people are surprised, but back in the ’90s, it felt like you were making horror movies.

A couple people, I think, did call them horror movies. Yeah, of a certain type and you can only leave so many marks by talking to someone. I suppose when you slide over into horror, you’re actually kind of free to leave actual marks. So you get a chance to kind of dig in a way that you don’t when people are being just psychologically bad. This allows you some real black and white characters that can do really scary things. And it’s just such a fun genre to work in and to try and get it right. I’ve had mixed success with it, but it’s one that I definitely like it and am always drawn to.

You shot the movie in mostly one location. You’ve done that before, and obviously it’s practical during a pandemic, but how do you use limited locations to reinforce themes and help tell the story best?

Well, certainly there’s always that balance of creative and economic and obviously we were at a time when it made the most sense to do something very controlled with a small cast and small crew and fewer locations. And all those things made sense, but it wasn’t like, “Oh, I want to do one of those COVID movies where it’s about we’re being locked in a room together because of this sickness out there.” It was more about this is a perfect time to tell a story like this.

And so, all those things definitely played to our advantage in terms of making the movie, but finding a cool location, finding a way to kind of ratchet up the tension even when it’s really just towards that with two people and then you add a third and fourth, it was a chance to do something that was very controlled.

I’ve done a couple things like that before. I did “Some Velvet Morning” a few years ago, and that was all in one house in Park Slope in Brooklyn and just two people. I like that kind of thing. I’m very drawn to chamber pieces like that. I wouldn’t think someone would look at it and say, “Oh, that’s quite a surprise.” That way, I think partially more about the genre and where it goes, but it was a great recipe for making a movie in that situation.

Although, nights are never the easiest thing and we fought weather and all things that you wouldn’t think you would in a film like this, but it’s amazing what could happen in a two week period. So it had its own difficulties, but it was a blast to put it together.

For you, what’s the best way to make a single location cinematic?

Well, so much is about layout and how you’re going to use a place. And it’s almost when you’re rehearsing or if you have the time to rehearse, you really want to plot out how… It’s almost like a play at that point, where you’re like, “How many pages are going to happen here? What’s going to naturally take them over to the next room or what moves them outside? Why don’t they go outside?” It was feeling out this location and what was best about it.

Again, there was a lot of rain at that time. We were dealing with, can we go outside? Should we stay inside? Should we gamble on trying to shoot tonight outside or should we move that down the schedule? And when you have a short schedule, there’s only so many moves that you get to make like that before you run out of room.

So it’s a little bit like playing chess… Or maybe Battleship is better than chess. With chess, you can see all the pieces on the board. In Battleship, somebody’s got to get that other side of the screen where you don’t know exactly what’s going on.

The element of surprise.

Yeah. So there’s a little bit of that going on, but when you’ve got a game, cast and crew, you feel good about your chances and people are on their lines and do their jobs and COVID makes it tough, but it’s obviously not impossible. And so we got a chance to put something fun together during that time.

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