Synopsis: On Halloween, a group of friends encounter an “extreme” haunted house that promises to feed on their darkest fears. The night turns deadly as they come to the horrifying realization that some nightmares are real.
Stars: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford
Director: Scott Beck & Bryan Woods
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Let me tell you, every October I go on high alert looking for a newer horror film I can get behind. With so many ways for filmmakers to deliver scares to us now (theatrically, streaming, etc.) it can be tough to keep track of everything that comes out so it’s best to go where the buzz is. Horror fans are a picky bunch and while we often will feast happily on even meager scraps if available, when there’s the opportunity to eat like royalty we’ll let everyone else know what’s for dinner. So when I heard Haunt was gathering some strong word of mouth momentum in its on-demand release I made it a priority to get it to it before the month was over.
I’ve come to not put too much credence in advertising for horror movies that say “from the writers of” or “from the studio that brought you” just because it rarely equates to little more than evoking your positive thoughts of that previous release. In the case of Haunt, the presence of producer Eli Roth (The House with a Clock in Its Walls) didn’t intrigue me as much as the bit about the film coming from the writers of the clever surprise hit A Quiet Place, Scott Beck & Bryan Woods. Beck and Woods direct Haunt as well and it’s interesting to note it finished filming in November 2017, the same time as A Quiet Place, though it’s only coming out now. Whatever the delays were, they were worth it because Haunt is a real diamond in the rough – a focused horror movie that, while not always original in thought, is genuinely scary.
As a way to clear her mind after breaking up with her abusive boyfriend, Harper (Katie Stevens) spends Halloween night with her roommate Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain) and their two friends Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford). A noisy club doesn’t prove to be any fun and definitely doesn’t get them in the Halloween spirit so after meeting Nathan (Will Brittain, Everybody Wants Some!!) and Evan (Andrew Caldwell) the group decides to look for another venue that’s a bit more in line with the spooky holiday. A flyer boasting an Extreme Haunted House catches their eye and before you know it the six are headed out into the middle of nowhere searching for the location where the big scares are. We’ve already seen a little of the inside during the credit sequence, watching an unseen figure making preparations but it isn’t clear until they arrive just how isolated it is.
Now, if Haunt were made ten years ago audiences may have balked at the willingness of the guys and gals to enter the sketchy looking industrial rundown warehouse but we’re in the era when an old-school haunted house just doesn’t cut it. Many scare-hounds are now looking for that extra bit of realism and lived-in experience that puts them in the center of an attraction that feels dangerous. So when Harper and her friends have to sign waivers and relinquish their cell phones it doesn’t seem that odd of a request. At first, the space seems fairly standard but the deeper they travel (and the more clown-mask wearing staff they meet) the more they realize this really isn’t like anything they’ve seen before, it’s far deadlier. As they are separated by various detours and trap doors they are hunted by a malevolent gang sporting nightmare-inducing masks and maybe something even freakier underneath.
Blessedly, while Haunt is gore-heavy it’s not of the Saw variety where it veers toward torturous rather than creative. As someone that has worked in a similar haunted house that was built from the ground up inside an old factory, the production design is spot on and is elaborate enough to suggest significant work went into the mazes and puzzle rooms but not so over designed that it would come off as unbelievable. Also, a few of the rooms are super creepy and unsettling, with an eerie menace that’s helped along by solid performances from the cast. The make-up effects are well done and more than a few sights for sure gave me goosebumps.
It’s also nice to report that Haunt actually has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There’s no prolonged finale that drags on or multiple fake-outs capped off with a last blast to goose you up and out of your seat. Though it may strain just a tiny bit to get past that 90 minute marker, it does so by taking its time with the stalking scenes. This gives the terrorized guests an actual shot at fighting back instead of just rolling over and awaiting their fate. Attempts at character development are noble, though it’s really only Harper that gets any kind of major movement in that area. The motives for the staff of the haunted house aren’t quite clear but their actions speak (scream) louder than words.
Easily a top recommendation in 2019 for those looking for something brand new to tune into this Halloween, Haunt is handled with care and intelligence. It provides the requisite scares but also supplies another layer of creepy that is much appreciated. I can see this being one people are excited to discover down the line and it’s absolutely one I’d enjoy introducing friends to.