It’s easy to see why a horror movie maker might want to set his story in a carnival haunted house: The jump scares come virtually prepackaged. If it’s a gag in the house designed to scare visitors in the film then it can also be used to scare the movie audience. As experience will tell you, there are a lot of filmmakers who don’t really push themselves to stretch beyond those prepackaged scares. They hide a real slasher in the house, put a few pretty young people at the front of the line to get killed and viola! It’s not good horror, but it usually makes money
Writers/directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place) have something a little more ambitious in mind with their film Haunt. While the majority of the action takes place in the creepy environs of a haunted house, the setting is there more to unnerve you than give you any cheap thrills. And while it does feature a group of pretty people being led to the slaughter, Beck and Woods do a fairly good job of giving them — or at least the majority of them — enough individual personality to make you care what happens to them.
And when it comes to putting a killer in the house, they really up the ante by making just about everyone else in the movie a bloodthirsty murderer. They don’t bother to give them any personality beyond that. None of them have big speeches explaining why they are killing people (although the phrase ‘Do you still want to see my face?’ will haunt you long after the lights come back on). They are there to almost silently creep you out, then terrify you with the brutality of their actions. And it works.
In terms of the story outline, Haunt is pretty basic. A group of college kids go out to a party on Halloween and quickly become bored. Walking down the street, they find a flyer for a DIY haunted house. The find it, almost by accident (or is it fate?), and decide to give it a chance despite the fact the ‘haunted house’ is in a sketchy abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere. But, hey, they are young and pretty; what could go wrong?
In terms of the performances, the standout is Katie Stevens who plays Harper, the wallflower of the group whose life growing up showed her enough real horror for a lifetime. While it would probably have been easier for Stevens to play the victim in the film, the actress gives Harper a backbone strong enough to let her stand up for herself by the end of the film. It may take Harper a while to find it, but if you watch Stevens’ performance closely you can almost see her learn to trust it and fight back.
Will Britain is good, if a bit bland, as the hunky guy Harper meets at the party, while Andrew Caldwell is perfect as Evan, the jerk of the group who, as the bodies pile up around him, learns to think of somebody besides himself for a change. Lauryn Alisa McClain, Shazi Raja, and Schuyler Helford round out the cast, but the script doesn’t really give them enough to do while they wait for the bad guys to get them. If it’s any consolation prize, their characters all die, if not well, then in memorable ways.
- John Black, Haunt