Directed by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods. Starring: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Andrew Caldwell. Released: September 13, 2019. Runtime: 1h 32 min.
In Haunt, a group of friends on Halloween night stumble upon an “extreme” haunted house that promises to feed into their darkest fears. The horror in Haunt is memorable as there are great scenes of tension and the set design is creative throughout the haunted house. There’s nothing quite as scary as a character looking down a hall with a series of mannequins covered with blankets and not knowing if one of those is a real person. Characters crawling through a claustrophobic tunnel and hearing noises is also intense.
Admittedly, the characters are cookie cutter but the main character Harper (Katie Stevens) has a strong backstory and we cheer for her. Stevens’ acting is also strong in a horror film I was surprised by. Nathan (Will Birttain) is fine as the main guy, but I truly couldn’t tell you anything about his character. Evan (Andrew Caldwell) brings the comedic relief. Otherwise, they’re disposable and the film knows it and takes advantage of that. The horror is well-executed throughout and well-written by writing team Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place). They also direct.
The pacing is strong as after the characters find out that the haunted house is a little too real, the film is consistently action-packed and has a strong atmosphere and doesn’t have to lean on too many jump scares. There are jump scares, because it’s a film with a haunted house, but it never feels gimmicky. The film gives the immersive haunted house experience in the form of a horror film and it works. I liked it because I’m too much of a scaredy cat to enjoy haunted houses. My anxiety couldn’t take it, so it’s nice to visit a haunted house through this from the comfort of my own home where no one can jump out at me or hold me hostage.
2018’s Hell Fest has a similar effect in providing a haunted house experience in a film, but its execution is weak. Haunt’s execution works very well, also utilizing a fear of the unknown. This unknown is the motives of those running the haunted house. We see their faces – and it’s quite intense when they unmask – but we never know their motives. That’s one complaint of mine, but it’s also understandable why it’s not explained.
There’s some fear in the fact that these are just people being so brutal to others for the sake of it, but I think for a film that doesn’t thrive on storyline or characters (besides the one strong central story of trauma), some motive would be nice here just for the sake of story. It’s realistic there’s no motive, however, because these maniacs aren’t the type to monologue of why they’re doing this or give tragic backstories.
That’s mostly because the pacing is so quick so there’s literally no time. They just kill remorselessly and go onto the next one. By the way, this is an Eli Roth film so of course it’s brutal. I do think not explaining the motives works for the film, as trying to develop its story more might have bogged it down. It’s a Halloween movie that thrives on its horror scenarios and just like haunted houses, it doesn’t need a story to scare the shit out of you.
Not a sponsor, but Haunt is available to watch on the streaming service Shudder.