Studio: Brainstorm Media
Director: Andrew C. Erin
Writer: Andrew C. Erin, Daniel Farrands
Producer: Jina Panebianco, Tosca Musk, Andrew C. Erin
Stars: Julie Benz, Belle Shouse, Josh Stamberg, Danielle Harris, Douglas Tait, Matt Lasky, Dendrie Taylor, Toby Huss, Jennifer Blanc, Fionnula Flanagan
A recovering addict suspects her mysterious apartment building hides a secret connected to disappearing tenants.
Any number of telltale signs can warn when it is time to find a new apartment. Cockroaches. Poor plumbing. A vintage photo of serial killer H.H. Holmes hanging in the lobby.
Jackie doesn’t recognize the mustached man in the entryway portrait, however. Even if she did, it might not deter her from investigating what happened to her friend Danielle.
Danielle disappeared from Havenhurst (and with her goes Danielle Harris in a brief appearance that doesn’t outlast opening credits), a creepy and cave-like New York apartment building on the same block as “American Horror Story’s” hotel and The Bramford from “Rosemary’s Baby” (review here). Elderly owner Eleanor assures that Havenhurst is a safe home for recovering addicts and alcoholics like Jackie, provided they stay sober and keep their lives on the right track. Those who slip into old habits face permanent eviction, from existence as well as from the building.
Fresh from rehab following a life-changing horror of her own making, Jackie is welcomed as Havenhurst’s newest tenant. Already fearful of her friend’s fate, Jackie’s suspicions that something isn’t right within the grandly Gothic walls are confirmed by the sounds of a screaming resident next door (Jennifer Blanc in an appearance briefer than Danielle Harris’). While her detective friend Tim takes his time looking into her tips, Jackie befriends new neighbor Sarah, a young girl whose foster family has its own skeletons haunting their closet. Sarah knows a few of Havenhurst’s secrets, and she might hold the key to unlocking the big one hidden in the basement.
Even genre fave Julie Benz can’t turn on the faucet to make “Havenhurst’s” main character more than a drip. Jackie is usually moping, being casually careless at her job as a diner waitress, or otherwise appearing disinterested or uninteresting.
The perpetually pouty protagonist is already behind the eight ball in earning an audience’s sympathy courtesy of a backstory beat involving drunk driving and a dead daughter. Mediocre scripting then cocoons Jackie in as much convention as she can carry, including a lip-licking stare at a liquor store window display (how else would we know she is an alcoholic?), and having to talk to herself because so many scenes stage her solo (if she didn’t say “Danielle” out loud to no one, how would we guess what the ‘D’ stands for in “D. Hampton,” the attribution on a photo in the apartment belonging to Danielle, who was a photographer?).
The distance between its 2014 copyright date and 2017 release at best infers a missed window where “Havenhurst” feels further redundant in light of similar spookshows such as “The Boy” (review here) making their mark in the meantime. At worst, a multiyear limbo suggests distributors weren’t exactly in a bidding frenzy to eagerly scoop up the project.
Actually, I’m not sure which of those is the best and which is the worst-case scenario. Regardless, it wouldn’t appear as though moneymen and women behind-the-scenes had unwavering confidence in the film’s odds of success. Rightly so.
“Havenhurst” plays around with some thoughtful themes involving overcoming addiction and personal demons. It’s mostly an illusion of deeper ideas powering proceedings though. Typical trappings of serial killer thriller meets haunted house chiller end up fighting their way to the film’s frontlines more than anything truly meaningful does.
The revelation of what is really happening at Havenhurst only makes slight sense in the moment and almost none in retrospect. The little that is explained comes by way of exposition cleanly arranged in a collection of newspaper clippings conveniently available to the heroine in time to piece together the puzzle you likely completed in Act One.
Yes, this is the kind of standardized suspense film “Havenhurst” is. Capable and competent in constructing itself with blocks of by-the-book basics. But formulaic and predictable in how it is put together and pulled off.
Like the building, “Havenhurst” has an appealing exterior. Anyone might be lured inside by the film’s cast of familiar faces and its polished presentation. An echoing interior in need of more substance and scares, on the other hand, doesn’t incentivize sticking around to soak it in.
Review Score: 40