Over the last few years, horror has jumped on the escape room and haunted attractions bandwagon in a big way. Since 2014, the genre has treated us to Hell House LLC, The Houses October Built, Hell Fest, and Escape Room. Even before these movies, carnivals and theme parks were understandably popular horror destinations. From midnight movie cult classic Carnival of Souls to Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse and Jordan Peele’s Us, horror movies have adeptly exploited scare attractions. Now director and producer Eli Roth and the writers of A Quiet Place have joined forces to give us indie horror movie, Haunt.
Looking for a night away from her troubled relationship, Harper and her friends head out for a night of Halloween partying. On a dark, deserted stretch of road, the young revellers happen across a haunted house attraction. Once inside the building, cheaper props quickly give way to real horrors.
Haunt Stalks Familiar Ground, But Does It Well
If you argued that Haunt isn’t exactly breaking fresh ground, you wouldn’t be wrong. Writers and directors, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place) aren’t re-inventing the wheel. But sometimes it’s all in the execution. Though its premise and setting have been done, Beck and Woods inject some fresh creepiness into Haunt. Last year’s Hell Fest was fun, but pretty light slasher fare. Back in January, Escape Room offered a suspenseful, big-budget take on the premise. Comparatively, Haunt has good production values while still benefitting from an indie horror vibe. Haunt wastes little time putting its characters in danger. And once Harper and her friends are trapped inside the haunt attraction, Beck and Woods offer a steady stream of suspense and clever set-ups.
A Few Too Many False Endings Without Overstaying Its Welcome
Horror ‘gore master’ Eli Roth served as one of the producers on Haunt. Given his filmography (Green Inferno, Cabin Fever), Roth’s name on the credits builds certain expectations. Nonetheless, Haunt largely avoids over-indulging into gratuitous gore. On the one hand, Haunt is world’s apart from A Quiet Place. Yet Beck and Woods never let the movie slide into ‘grindhouse’ or full ‘torture porn’ territory. As the movie hits its third act, Haunt lets loose with some bloody deaths. But for the most part, Haunt relies on atmosphere and suspense. The movie’s best moments – like its ‘guess the body part’ scene – rely on exploiting and drawing out your expectations.
With an over-extended climax, and a couple of false endings, Haunt comes close to overstaying its welcome.
If Haunt has a problem, it’s that it overestimates its own material. Given its premise, Haunt wisely moves at a quick pace while offering healthy doses of suspense. But its third act is a little bloated. With an over-extended climax and a couple of false endings, Haunt comes close to overstaying its welcome. Fortunately, Beck and Woods never allow their movie to become dull or tedious. From start to finish, horror fans should be invested in what’s happening on screen.
A Horror Movie is Only As Good As Its ‘Monsters’
Mixing a bit of coulrophobia with the kind of creepy masks popularized in The Purge series, Haunt boasts some convincing human ‘monsters’. Indie horror fans may be tempted to draw some comparisons to the ‘haunt’ freaks of The Houses October Built. Though the comparison wouldn’t be unfair, Beck and Woods wisely shroud their villains in mystery. Horror usually works better when the ‘why’ is left unexplained. Motiveless and ‘unknown’, Haunt’s freaks are genuinely creepy. Each villain in turn is given a chance to shine.
Haunt Lacks Originality, But Still Packs A Punch
Creepy clowns, haunt freaks, and booby-trapped theme attractions – it’s been done in horror in the past. But that’s no reason to dismiss Haunt. Genuinely creepy and suspenseful, Haunt hooks you early and follows through with a better-than-expected bloody finale. Given the right exposure, Haunt will hopefully join movies like Hell House LLC and The Houses October Built on horror fans’ Halloween playlist.