Studio: Momentum Pictures
Director: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Writer: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Producer: Todd Garner, Mark Fasano, Vishal Rungta, Ankur Rungta, Eli Roth
Stars: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford
Six college friends unknowingly enter an extreme Halloween haunt whose masked actors are actually sadistic murderers.
I’ve reviewed a number of thrillers themed around patrons getting slaughtered inside Halloween haunts including “The Houses October Built” (review here), “Hell House LLC” (review here), “House of Purgatory” (review here), even “Bunnyman Vengeance” (review here). For me, most of those titles range from underwhelming to disappointing. In my review of “Extremity” (review here) I mused, “someday, someone may make a legitimately frightening fictional film that accurately reflects the immersive terror of an extreme haunt. ‘Extremity’ isn’t it.”
“Haunt” isn’t it either. Like its peers, Problem #1 stems from recycling a premise that’s impossible to buy into. Here in Los Angeles, Halloween haunts are either so popular you can’t book a reservation or so packed you can’t walk through without soaking up the sweat of seventy strangers. The notion that six friends can have a vacant haunt to themselves for an unlimited amount of time is almost as laughable as the idea of a conspiratorial cabal building an elaborate attraction the size of a small city, murdering multiple people, and somehow escaping scot-free.
“Haunt’s” bigger problem involves rigidly obeying all the rules of routine. When someone drops an important key, of course it goes into a grate serendipitously sitting beneath that person’s feet. Another predictable moment sees someone mistakenly stabbing a friend who was bound, gagged, and costumed to look like one of the masked attackers. I honestly wonder, when writers include such overdone scenes in their screenplays, do they know they’re following formula or do they pat themselves on the back under mistaken assumptions of doing something novel?
“Haunt” markets the straightforward style of teen slasher Blumhouse would still be doing if their brand hadn’t broken big with “Halloween,” “The Purge,” and Jordan Peele projects. The setup starts with college coed Harper, a Xeroxed good girl with a bad boyfriend who also happens to be the only character with any backstory. At a Halloween party, Harper seemingly takes an interest in a jock whose negligible name I can’t remember despite finishing the film only moments ago. If “Haunt” meant to seed a cute romance between the two of them, that spark extinguishes immediately and never ignites again. Instead, “Haunt” bolts away from perfunctory exposition and heads straight for a conveyor belt of clichés.
The jock’s loudmouth pal suggests checking out a strange haunt naturally in the middle of nowhere. Joining their group are three friends of Harper’s too indistinguishable to even fulfill a quota for slut, bitch, and ditz stereotypes. Regardless, they still talk like millennial college kids, or at least what screenwriters in their mid-thirties think millennials sound like, repeatedly greeting each other with “hey” and cracking wise about supposedly trendy topics like cell phones and ride sharing.
Once the six of them enter the haunt, which is operated by an equal number of masked murderers, mistimed editing prevents the pace from reaching a reliable stride. At one point, the sixsome splits into two groups of three. Something significant happens to one trio before the camera cuts to the other. Minutes pass, but by the time we bounce back to the previous group, they’re still right where they were when the movie put them on pause. “Haunt” loses focus every time a similar separation occurs. Rhythm goes into the wringer as individual moments lose steam instead of sustaining “what’s gonna happen?” tension.
PR proudly promotes “Haunt” as being “From the Writers of ‘A Quiet Place’ (review here).” That quote omits that Scott Beck and Bryan Woods also did “Nightlight” (review here), the poorly received “found footage” film that infamously took place from an inanimate flashlight’s POV. Let’s quantify “Haunt” by saying it makes a better neighbor for the latter than for the former.
“Haunt” reminds me of a Minor League rehab game for a ballplayer recovering from an injury in that it reads like Beck and Woods wrote it as an exercise in fright film fundamentals to shake off rust after a bout of writer’s block. Their playoff-caliber creativity remains reserved for the likes of “A Quiet Place 2” while “Haunt” has to settle for milquetoast milieus of squishy homicides and standard scarlet cinema staples. I’ll give it up for good looking photography that initially captures a crisp Fall feeling full of jack-o-lanterns and cool breezes rustling Midwestern leaves. Then the whole thing flattens underfoot in an effort best described as “entry-level horror.”
Someday, someone may make a horror movie about a Halloween haunt that does something beyond putting plain people on meat hooks for costumed killers to terrorize over ninety minutes. Unfortunately, “Haunt” is the inferior movie I just described, not the improved one this subgenre still needs.
Review Score: 40