Haunt (2019)

16 Apr

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

A group of young people go out partying on Halloween night and come across a secluded haunted-house attraction where the psychological scares are evened out by real sadistic masked killers that threaten to pick them off one by one…

That is the intriguing premise of “Haunt,” the 2019 horror-thriller film from writing-directing duo Scott Beck & Bryan Woods, best known for writing the original draft of the groundbreaking horror success “A Quiet Place” (before director/co-writer John Krasinski took the reins). “Haunt” is more of a slasher horror film than the former film, but while many people will say they’re tired of the “slasher” subgenre because there isn’t much that’s added to it these days, those people tend to forget there are still new ways to make it good these days.

“Haunt” feels more like a “Saw” movie than the more tonally melancholy “A Quiet Place,” as the central characters move from one deadly contraption to the next in this claustrophobic literal house of horrors (and this isn’t necessarily a spoiler, but some of them don’t survive the traps). Most of the action takes place in this danger house, making “Haunt” worth watching again if only just to appreciate the production design at hand. The traps are elaborately staged and…well, let’s just say the killers don’t mess around. (Actually, they do play with their prey’s heads a little bit–THEN they go for the kills. They also sport neat, scary masks and heavy cloaks, like a club or a cult–who these people are is never explained, but it’s intriguing to think about what they’re all about.)

While the characters aren’t much to write home about, they are likable and played by good actors, including Andrew Caldwell as the comic-relief, Lauryn McClain as the sensible one, and Shazi Raja and Schuyler Helford as their partying friends. Will Brittain, an actor I liked in films such as “A Teacher” and “Everybody Wants Some!!,” does solid work as Nathan, a sensitive-jock type who makes friends easily and even has some funny moments during this horrific nightmare as well. But it’s Katie Stevens who shines as the would-be final-girl named Harper, who is suffering quietly from an abusive relationship with an alcoholic boyfriend (Samuel Hunt) and also has had her own traumatic experiences with a haunted house in the past. (Also, at one point, she refers to one of the mysterious masked figures by her boyfriend’s name, which makes room for thought-provoking angles.) After watching her go through some of the most torturous, injury-inducing antics in this place, you’ll want to applaud her for surviving even longer and root for her even harder to see the end credits.

Speaking of which, stay through the end credits–not because there’s an after-credits surprise (there isn’t), but because the song that plays over the crawl is musician Lissie’s acoustic cover of Rob Zombie’s “Dragula”–and it’s surprisingly (forgive the pun) haunting. I didn’t know I needed that in my life, but here we are.

Just about everything goes wrong from the moment the characters turn away their cellphones, sign consent forms, and are warned not to make physical contact with the “characters” in the haunted house–and while they do make your typical horror-movie mistakes (like splitting up when they shouldn’t), I’m not groaning so much as I’m having fun with the skilled mindset of Woods & Beck, who themselves embrace and have fun with cliches and conventions.

And the ending, which I won’t give away, is ultimately satisfying (and earns the aforementioned “Dragula” cover over the credits).

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