What puts the ‘haunt’ in a haunted house for you? Is it small spaces? Creepy crawlers? Morphed rooms? Masked monsters? A depraved man with a chainsaw? Haunted houses, and the more modern alternative of extreme haunts, are an annual opportunity to place yourself in the throes of artificial peril. The act of facing our fears without any real risk of injury, possession, or death, is a cathartic experience built on a rush of adrenaline. Writers and directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place) take the annual pop-up houses of fear to another level of terror as they guide participants through a maze of nefarious gags and staged debauchery in Haunt.
Starring Katie Stevens (Polaroid), Lauryn McClain (Daddy’s Little Girls), Shazi Raja (Salvation), Schuyler Helford (The Past Inside The Present), Will Brittain (Kong: Skull Island), and Andrew Caldwell (iZombie), Haunt sits high on horror-stock plot that follows a group of students who enter a local haunt for some Halloween entertainment, but find out the extreme behavior is far more deadly than they believed when they signed the waiver. Haunt is the perfect gig to enjoy during the Halloween season as it simultaneously draws on the scares of quick haunt horrors and the internal fears that haunt us from the inside out.
A haunt is the perfect setting for a horror film, when done right. Beck and Woods have really executed a well-crafted story that toys with the concept of what’s reality and what’s an act that ignites a pretty dark, grizzly story. Haunt’s villains are portrayed with a scary integrity and terrifying vibe of mystery sharply ignoring reason and motive. The kill scenes are decent, offering up a heavy dose of gore, but are oddly quick and a little basic. Peppered with a mix of appropriately cheap jump scares and some unnerving shocks, Haunt stands the viewer in line next to the characters so they too are constantly wondering if they’re ever really safe.
“Claustrophobia, spine chilling tasks, and gruesome imagery keeps Haunt from becoming just another teen horror flick.”
Haunt flaunts some strong gags, but its most authentic scare factor lies in the effects. Between gross practicals, high visual quality, and a skilled level of cinematography, Haunt dares viewers to move forward through a crafty maze of true basic horror. Everything from the masks of the villains to relaying real haunted house tricks adds a heightened level of terror to the plot. Moments of claustrophobia, spine chilling tasks, and gruesome imagery keeps Haunt from becoming just another teen horror flick. The balanced, consistent build of tension wrapped in a smart coating of paranoia really kicks up Haunt’s levels of intensity and darkness.
When it comes to the expansive list of horror genre themes, it’s no surprise to learn that reality is always so much scarier than make-believe manifestations. Merging the fake frights of a haunt and the crippling shocks of humanity is an intriguing point that Haunt uses as an advantage, instead of foregoing its simple plot for another cheap slasher. Reality is an unpredictable factor craved by viewers and Haunt’s authenticity begins with its haunted attraction, works through its characters, and bleeds through its compulsive kills. The group of teenagers are relatively uncomplicated and relatable exchanging contemporary dialogue that does not dumb-down the script. A thin level of humor does not get in the way as it usually does in most ‘young adult’ horror flicks. Their haunt of choice seems familiar because it’s the same one you’ll find in your own town each October. The authenticity draws you in under the false pretense of a typical haunted house, but the pure existence of reality keeps the appeal of Haunt very much alive.
The plot of Haunt is simple, but builds meaning within the heroine, Harper. Her tragic backstory is introduced a little late into the film, with little exposition, but it’s meaningful and sad at the same time. Her emotional battle with abuse begs to question what really makes a house haunted? Is it the cheap thrills and gags based on horror fiction or is it the reality of human monsters? The vicious cycle of abuse she endures appropriately serves to drive home the ongoing dilemma of what’s all in our own head versus what’s really happening. Haunt leaves little to the imagination, but the divisive meaning combined with the basic plot adds a lot of heart to a surprisingly dark adventure.
Haunt loses a little bit of its charm at the start of the third act, but it manages to circle back around in a pretty big way. The last three minutes got a little messy with the sequence of the ending feeling a little rushed and contrived, but it in no way detracts from Haunt’s fresh approach to a heavily channeled environment. Unfortunately, the biggest problem I had with Haunt was the film’s end credits. I did not care for the slow rendition of Rob Zombie’s ‘Dragula’ whatsoever. That was the most haunting part of this attraction for me.
It may be a fun popcorn flick, but Haunt holds a significant level of gritty, gory horror to an admirable degree resulting in the creation of a genuine scary movie. Everything about Haunt has been done wrong before, but this time the writing, the effects, and the allure exceed expectations. Sure, we have some breathtaking installments added to the horror genre, even just within the last few years, so you may think my praise of Haunt is weird. Remember, though, it’s Halloween. Weird is good.