Review: ‘Haunt’ (2019)

Are we seeing the rise of an “extreme haunt” sub-genre of horror films? It certainly looks like it. From franchises like The Houses October Built and Hell House LLC to last year’s one-offs Blood Fest and Hell Fest, I think it is a safe to say that this is officially a “thing”. It’s admittedly an obvious choice for a new thematic run of films, given the popularity of actual extreme haunts. Can that translate into good cinema? In some cases, yes. But what of Haunt? Is it a keeper to be cherished as a shining example of this burgeoning trend?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

Haunt hails from the writing duo behind last year’s hit monster mash, A Quiet Place. This time out they have traded ear-y carnivorous aliens for a sinister extreme haunt that lies off the beaten path. Our protagonists are an assortment of young adults out for a good time on Halloween and looking to get themselves scared. What they ultimately find, however, is way more than they bargained for as they are picked off one by one.

The set-up is a pretty standard one, but there is nothing wrong with wallowing in classic stalk ‘n slash tropes. The trick lies in the execution. No one gives a bad performance and there are some pretty cool bits of production design throughout. It also has a nice score from the always-welcome tomandandy (The Hills Have Eyes ’06, The Strangers) and there’s an interesting piano ballad cover of Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” that plays atop the end credits.

What fails Haunt are its direction and screenplay. For a film that utilizes a haunted house attraction forĀ  its set-up, it’s surprisingly flat-looking and basically photographed. There’s no real sense of style or suspense to any of the set pieces. The actors due their best to bring out the intensity of each sequence, but they can only do so much. A viewer should be filled with dread as the characters entire the next room each time out, but instead one is left feeling nothing.

Furthermore, we never really get a sense of the antagonists’ purpose or goals. An explanation for why they are doing this isn’t necessary, but the lack of direct contact that they have with their prey in the first two thirds of the proceedings strips them of any real sense of identity. There are also two subplots with our main character that never really gel with the rest of the narrative. Instead of further fleshing out her character’s backstory and psyche, they hang around the film’s neck like a pair of anchors. They land with such a thud that when she finally overcomes her fears and takes matters into her own hands, it never truly feels earned.

All that aside, this is not a terrible film. It is simply a very unremarkable one that just doesn’t have much to offer this new sub-genre. If you are a fan of this sub-genre and are looking to satiate your desire for more extreme haunt-based cinema (after viewing the other films I mentioned above), I won’t dissuade you from giving Haunt a look. You could do worse. Just don’t roll into this expecting a gem.

Haunt is an original horror thriller. It was written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. The film was produced by Mark Fasano, Todd Garner, Eli Roth, Ankor Rungta, and Vishal Rungta. It stars Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Shazi Raja, Andrew Caldwell, Schuyler Helford, Samuel Hunt, Chaney Morrow, Damian Maffei, Justin Marxen, Terri Partyka, Justin Rose, and Schuyler White.

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