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.
My Take – With the massive rise in demand and popularity of horror themed attractions, filmmakers have begun churning out more and more horror films based upon shoving hormone induced teenagers into an explicit death inducing blood shows, with last year’s Hell Fest and Blood Fest being the latest to join the list.
However, what added to the hype of this film was its attachment of producer Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever), and directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, fresh off the success from their writing gig on the John Krasinski directed horror blockbuster, A Quiet Place. While on paper, as one would expect, the plot doesn’t sound unique at all, its directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods‘s clever execution that makes it both relevant and also so much better than many of the films before it.
Even though I wouldn’t go as far to say that it the best haunted house film ever made (in my opinion that honor goes to the 2014 found footage horror The Houses October Built), yet for all its flaws, it is comfortingly familiar, with just enough twists on the tropes to keep you engaged, and most importantly, has the confidence to leave the best things unexplained. Making it refreshingly to the point slasher picture that will please its intended target audience.
The story follows Harper (Katie Stevens), a victim of domestic abuse, who is having a rough night, as she applies makeup to cover the bruising gifted by her alcoholic boyfriend Sam (Samuel Hunt). Despite her attempts to conceal her disturbance, her roommates, Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain), Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford), convince her to join them in their Halloween celebrations at a bar. Where she meets Nathan (Will Brittain), a friend of Bailey, and they soon hit it off.
However, for them the party soon comes to an end, as his drunken friend, Evan (Andrew Caldwell), ends up spilling drinks on her, while throwing a fit. Desperate to continue the party outside, the group decide to seek out a nearby haunted house, and happen upon it unexpectedly after Harper makes them pull off the side of the road because she thinks Sam, who has been repeatedly texting and calling her, is following them.
Once they sign the release forms and deposit their cell phones in a lock box, they head willingly inside the neon-lit nightmare factory, where six masked figures run the haunt, and are planning on doing more than just scaring their latest guests.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a shock if you’ve ever seen or heard of a slasher film: bad things happen. People die. There’s also thread about Harper’s childhood trauma running in the background, which doesn’t run particularly deep, but serves its purpose in the grand scheme of things. The film starts out in usual fashion and introduces us to what appear to be standard teenage horror characters that are definitely more tolerable than most characters in other films despite fitting right into the clichés.
However, the film begins to work exciting when the rules that the group must abide to (like don’t touch the actors etc.) are being doled out, mainly because we know that doom awaits them as they will inevitably break them. And like every slasher film, the group almost immediately separates upon entering the space, with three heading towards the Safe option while the remaining towards the Not Safe path, which include a variety classic horror throwbacks such as spider webs, fun house mirrors and narrow passages.
For the better part of the film, directors Beck and Woods manage to entertain us without cheese or unnecessary humor, instead giving us atmospheric enough trip through what feels like an improvised but effective haunted house.
Most importantly, the film makes no secret of its low budget, but the filmmakers embrace it rather than succumbing to it. The haunted house/maze aesthetic is elevated to new heights of fright through wide arrays of different set pieces, colorization, and overall foreboding environments. They absolutely knocked it out of the park with the overall visuals and camerawork as well, and it added so much to the already supreme tension. The cinematography is surprisingly eye-catching, better than it needed to be.
However, when the attacks finally do begin, it takes time for the group to realize the danger that they’re in. Unfortunately it is at this point, the film begins to lose its footing. The biggest issue, isn’t that the characters tend to make poor decisions, or even that the scares lack tension, but rather that the pacing tends to drag, particularly in the film’s back half.
By the time that the remaining survivors begin to fight back against their haunted house oppressors, the film has already overstayed its welcome. This fact is only underlined by the poor creative decision to tack on an underwhelming coda that produces more laughs than chills.
Coming to the antagonists, who look so appalling without their masks, that you want them to put their masks back on. Seeing who they are behind those masks does nothing to ease your fear.
However, the film does deserve the praise. It definitely doesn’t reinvent the wheel; it doesn’t aspire to. Instead it embraces the formula and does what it does with confidence and precision. We have seen finer, more ambitious horror films this year for sure, but this one really hits a sweet spot for pure slasher fun. It lacks the cynicism that’s plagued a lot of recent efforts in the sub-genre. There is some gore, but it’s nothing remotely as stomach-churning as what you’ve seen in Roth’s Hostel series.
The cast also does good job. Katie Stevens makes for a relatable final girl, while Will Brittain despite coming off as a typical jock at first, rises above the perception. In supporting roles, Andrew Caldwell, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Schuyler Helford, and Shazi Raja are also good. On the whole, ‘Haunt’ is an above standard slasher flick uplifted by its streamlined and throwback approach.
Rated – R
Run Time – 92 minutes