[Review] Haunt is the Best of the Extreme Haunt Movies...but...
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of extreme haunt horror movies. And, honestly, none of them have been very good. The Houses October Built, Hell Fest, Blood Fest, Extremity...they’ve been relatively numerous. I keep hoping that one will break the mold and be interesting. Haunt is probably the most successful of them...but that’s honestly not saying too much.
It begins with an abused and recently black-eyed Harper (Katie Stevens), whose abusive boyfriend continues to text/harass her. Her best friend Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain) wants her to dump him and she obviously should. So Bailey drags her out to a party with fellow sorority sisters Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford). It’s the kind of party where they serve Vodka with an actual spider in it. There, Harper has a meet cute with baseball-hat-turned-backwards cutie Nathan (Will Brittain) and his obnoxious friend Evan (Andrew Caldwell). They have a flyer for an extreme haunt somewhere outside of town and obviously manage to convince Harper’s posse to join them.
The haunt looks sketch from the get-go. It’s staffed with a single, mute clown standing in front of its rundown industrial building. But Tetanus is the least of their worries, once they’ve signed their lives away and surrendered their cell phones. Never touch the actors. Stay on the path. Do whatever’s asked of you...rules you’d expect at a normal haunted house. But this is one where the cast doesn’t have to abide by the same rules.
The first room has a girl in a body bag, screaming for help as a man presses a hot poker to her face before vanishing in a puff of smoke. They laugh it off and continue on, but things start to get more serious. They have to split up, sending some down a room with spider webs and actual spiders. And then Bailey gets injured, Mallory vanishes down a tunnel and chainsaws start revving…
Haunt was written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the duo known for writing last year’s well-received A Quiet Place and produced by Eli Roth. It reminds me that A Quiet Place is known more for the impressive sense of tension than character development or plot because while Haunt is stylish and once-in-awhile gory (thanks, presumably, to Eli’s hand), it lacks much meat. It’s at its strongest when it presents a haunted house that may or may not be what it seems. I squirmed at most of the more traditional haunted house things like willingly putting yourself in a coffin or walking through a web-lined hallway or reaching into a dark hole.
But eventually, Haunt must tip its hand and it turns into a slasher, as expected. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel very inspired once it goes full jump-a-thon. A couple terrific set pieces help buoy the intensity, like a room filled with ghostly mannequins you know someone is hiding in or crawling through a trap-lined hallway. But Harper is a pretty milquetoast hero and the rest of the cast are walking caricatures…which would be fine if the movie had more tension. The horror train starts to lose steam as it rounds into the third act and all of the surprises start to feel rote. It’s as if they didn’t know what to do with the characters once they have them in the pressure cooker. And I’m not sure that Harper’s tragic backstory and history of abuse does much to add to the story.
It’s still the best of the extreme haunt movies and it’s stylish and slickly produced to a perfect shine. Worth a Friday rental, at least.