Haunt (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: Six friends decide to visit an "extreme" haunted house on Halloween night. Naturally, the one the decide to go to features some very real terrors.

REVIEW: I have to give HAUNT (GET THE DVD HERE) this much: It's as simple as the above plot synopsis suggests. In a day and age where plenty of horror movies are trying their best to be "elevated" (eye roll), HAUNT offers very stripped-down, no frills pleasures; like the extreme haunted houses it takes inspiration from, it wants to scare you and nothing more. Whether or not it's actually scary is arguable; I found a few sequences suitably creepy, and the villains are actually more intriguing than the movie first lets on, but overall the experience is more forgettable than disturbing. Still, it is as straight-forward as they come.

The film, from producer Eli Roth and writer-directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (the writers behind the much, much better A QUIET PLACE), kicks off with a time-honored set-up: a bunch of pals decide to go someplace they really ought not to go. In this case, an extreme haunted house they happen to stumble upon in the middle of nowhere populated by silent weirdos in masks. Our pals have to give up their phones, natch, and once they're inside and find they're in the midst of something more extreme and terrifying than they had planned on. Beck and Woods don't fool around with any kind of "is this all just part of the haunt experience?" ambiguity; it's pretty clear early on the kids are screwed and they'll have to go through a series of dangerous escape rooms and corridors to survive. Admirably, the movie settles into a relentless rhythm after the quick set-up is established, plunging the gang further and further into the increasingly dangerous haunt.

As protagonists, our kids aren't very interesting. In fact, they don't even fit into the usual categories you'd expect, as the movie thoroughly zooms right past any meaningful introductions. Our final girl is clearly Harper (Katie Stevens), who is dealing with both a traumatic past (she had an abusive father) and present (her boyfriend is also abusive). Beyond her, we have nice jock Nathan (Will Brittain), obnoxious lout Evan (Andrew Caldwell), and three girls who are completely interchangeable (Lauryn Alisa McClain, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford). Once the terror begins, we can assume Harper will use the strength she's built up over the years to forge ahead, but the others are so thinly sketched we can't even remember their names. Disappointingly, even their death scenes (not really a spoiler, is it?) are rather perfunctory; no one goes out in memorable style, so those horror fans just seeking out gruesome kills will not be very satisfied.

As has to be the case in a movie like this, the characters make a series of choices that range from questionable to downright idiotic – and that goes for our killers too. As the film progressed, I found myself scoffing more and more at what these people thought were good ideas. I get it: if you were living out a genuine nightmare, you wouldn't be making the most top-notch decisions, but we can only accept so many head-slappers. The film isn't necessarily ruined by these moments, but that's only because we're not invested enough in the characters to care. Our victims are just pawns in a horror movie and nothing more; even Harper is painted in such broad strokes it's hard to fully invest in her outcome.

There are positives to HAUNT. The production design of the haunt itself is well done, and the sound design is just right too. There are some pretty good jump scares if you've got the volume cranked up. (Unfortunately, I saw this via online screener, but I am guessing it's more effective in a theater with a solid sound system.) This is a professionally done picture, so even if there wasn't much attention paid to the characters, there surely was on the general atmosphere of the thing. A handful of sequences, primarily the ones revolving around the masked maniacs, build a nice sense of foreboding. Those villains are tantalizing, if not fully realized. I don't want to spoil too much about them, but the movie offers just enough information that I found myself wanting to know more. Perhaps for the best, the movie doesn't reveal everything, but at the very least I was pleasantly surprised that there was more behind the masks than I initially assumed.

HAUNT isn't a bad choice if you're looking for some disposable Halloween horror; you can certainly do much worse. But at the end of the day, I would've liked to have seen a movie that offers us interesting characters in truly frightening situations, and on that score HAUNT gives us more tricks than treats.

HAUNT hits limited theaters and VOD on September 13th.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for JoBlo.com. He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.