House Of Darkness director Neil LaBute doesn’t mind fooling the audience [Exclusive Interview]

Whenever you dare to do horror, people are surprised, but in the 90s, it felt like you were making horror movies.

Some, I think, called them horror movies. Yes, of a certain type and you can leave so many marks just by talking to someone. I guess when you slip into horror, you’re really free to leave real scars. So you get a chance to dig in a way that you don’t when people are just psychologically evil. 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 on and try to get it right. I’ve had mixed success with it, but it’s something I definitely like and always gravitate towards.

You shot the film on one main location. You’ve done it before, and it’s obviously practical during a pandemic, but how do you use limited locations to reinforce themes and help tell the story better?

Well, there’s definitely always that balance of creative and financial, and obviously we were at a time when it made a lot of sense to do something very controlled with a small cast and a 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 us being locked in a room together because of this disease out there.” It was more about this is the perfect time to tell a story like this.

And so, all of those things definitely worked in our favor in terms of making the movie, but finding a cool location, finding a way to turn up the volume even when it’s really just down to it with two people, and then you add a third and a fourth , it was an opportunity to do something that was very controlled.

I’ve done a couple of these things in the past. I did “Some Velvet Morning” a few years ago, and that was all in a house in Park Slope in Brooklyn and just two people. I like that kind of thing. I am very attracted to such room pieces. I wouldn’t think anyone would look at it and say, “Oh, that’s a big surprise.” In that way, I’m partly thinking more about the genre and where it’s going, but it was a great recipe for making a movie in that situation.

Although, nights are never the easiest thing and we fought for the weather and all the things you wouldn’t think you’d do on 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 putting it together.

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

Well, so much has to do with 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 plan 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 lead them naturally in the next room or what will move them out? Why don’t they come out?” It was a feeling of this location and what was best about it.

Again it was raining a lot at that time. We were like, can we go out? Should we stay in? Should we bet on trying to shoot tonight out or should we move it down the schedule? And when you have a short schedule, there are only so many moves you can make like this before you run out of space.

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

The element of surprise.

Yes. So that happens a little bit, but when you have a game and cast and crew, you feel good about your chances and people are in line and doing their jobs and COVID makes it difficult, but obviously not impossible. And so we had a chance to put together something fun during that time.

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