Off the back of their somewhat unexpected but completely deserved proverbial thrusting into the limelight after the release of 2018 smash-hit “A Quiet Place”, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods returned to the genre that served them so well previously with their new horror outing “Haunt”.
Harper (Katie Stevens) is a quiet, unassuming soul stuck in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic, older boyfriend. She knows she’s better off out of there but can’t bring herself to make the jump. In steps sorority housemate Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain) who gives her that little push that she needed before taking her newly single friend out on the town on Halloween night. They meet up with friends Angela and Mallory and drink through to midnight. Harper awkwardly crosses paths with Nathan (Will Brittain), the hunky, sports student that she never knew she needed and his foul-mouthed friend, Evan. After leaving the club, the group stumble across a flyer for an extreme haunted house experience. Buoyed on by their dutch courage, the group venture out into the wilderness and enter the warehouse for an experience where the stakes have never been higher.
Let’s start with the scares because that’s what any haunted house should be judged on, right? Beck and Woods give themselves a completely blank slate to work with. This is a place where there are no rules and nothing is off limits. All the usual suspects are on show here: lots of spiders, chainsaw-wielding lunatics, witches, derformed killer clowns who make Pennywise look like Ronald McDonald. You name it, it’s here. In real life, it would be the scenario from hell but that just didn’t translate. It never felt like it really got going, which sounds bizarre when (spoiler alert) we’re talking about people being impaled by fire pokers and pitchforks and having their face ripped from their skull. It’s gnarly for sure, but it isn’t really scary.
Part of the reason that things never really got going was the confusing editing of events once the group arrived at the house. We are thrown from one set piece to the next without time to breathe or appreciate what they characters had just experienced which is a shame because there were some excellently composed set pieces here that work really well in isolation. But with the relentless nature of the journey through the house they soon become lost amongst the labyrinth and as a result it struggles to create the suffocating atmosphere that it needs. There’s a distinct sense they tried to throw pretty much everything at the wall and inevitably some things stuck and others didn’t. A more reserved approach of “less is more” may well have paid off here.
Beck and Woods have gone one step further this time round, directing as well as writing, and there’s some really well framed stuff. There’s some really clever and effective use of artificial lighting and shadows. The set designs were great too. A film like this doesn’t sell tickets on the expectations of quality writing but there were a few wince-inducing moments of dialogue that made me wish that “Haunt” was a quiet place too.
The characters are very much as you’d expect from the premise. The majority of them are there to serve a purpose, that purpose being cannon fodder to ensure that our main protagonists stand a better chance of getting out alive. Harper is the only character that we are granted access to in terms of a backstory. She’s a child from a violent home and she suffers from a recurring nightmare of being stuck under her bed as a child and watching as her dad violently abused her mother. The film tries to tie in the experience of the haunted house with this recurring nightmare. There’s a real sense of her overcoming her metaphorical demons, only this time the demons are only too real and are chasing her through an abandoned warehouse with a pitchfork. How successfully it does that is left open for debate.
“Haunt” has a simple and enjoyable premise and is more than entertaining enough to warrant your time if this kind of thing is your jam. There’s some really gritty moments and the subjective nature of fear means that it may have you screaming louder than I did. Just don’t enter into the haunted house expecting answers to any questions you may have about what is going on and why it’s happening. Leave your brain at the door and you may just have a good time.
My Rating: ★★½
Written + Directed by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Cast: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn Alisa McClain,