October is just around the corner now, so cue the haunted attractions-based horror movie for this Halloween season. Over the last several years, the genre has treated horror fans to deadly escape rooms (Escape Room), killer haunted attractions (Haunt, Hell House LLC, The Houses October Built), and chilling fun houses (The Fun House, The Fun House Massacre). This year’s variation on the theme, Haunted Trail, places its scares and kills on, yes, a haunted trail. Robin Givens – from 80s fan favourite sitcom Head of the Class – directs this under-the-radar title. And Givens has quietly built up her directing credits, including collaborating on last year’s excellent Horror Noire.
It’s Halloween night and a group of college friends are looking for some fun and frights. When the group gets together at a haunted trail, the night starts off as expected. But when an all-too real killer turns up, the scares become very real. And the only way out it so through the trail.
Haunted Trail Looks Good and It’s Watchable, But It’s Never Very Scary
On the surface level, everything about Haunted Trail looks good. This isn’t a shoddily produced B-movie with clumsy visuals and a hamstrung story. To her credit, director Robin Givens shows plenty of talent and potential behind the camera. Nonetheless, Haunted Trail treads familiar ground. Writer Paul Lindsay adapts a story from Raven Magwood that, for all intensive purposes, does little to separate itself from a host of similarly-themed horror movies. Young people go to a haunted attraction where a real killer stalks them – that general synopsis could describe any number of recent horror movies. It doesn’t help that Lindsay’s screenplay drags itself down with a litany of dumb character choices and plot holes. Honestly, one person goes rogue in a haunted attraction and no staff notices?
Everything here looks good. Still Haunted Trail has few, if any, genuine scares with relatively slow pacing that undercuts any sense of urgency.
But a derivative premise is only half the problem. On one hand, Givens clearly knows her way around the camera. She also seems to have a lot of appreciation for the genre. In spite of the strong background and respect for horror, Givens fails to create much in the way of suspense or actual horror. Everything here looks good. Still Haunted Trail has few, if any, genuine scares with relatively slow pacing that undercuts any sense of urgency. As for its slasher bona fides, Haunted Trail has one or two neat kills, but there’s nothing here likely to stand out.
Haunted Trail Wastes a Likable Cast on a Run-of-the-Mill Story and Killer
If the scares are a bit underwhelming, the casting and performances make up for it as best as possible. Most of the class will be unfamiliar to general audiences. Nevertheless, the performances are the highlight of the movie as they feel very organic and the relationships between the characters occasionally heighten the little suspense that arises in Haunted Trail. In addition to some needed humor, Desi Banks (Zay) and Reggie Couz (Austin) show off plenty of charisma and some tension between their characters that fuels a bit of the story.
In the place of an intimidating and memorable killer, we get a fairly generic antagonist who isn’t likely to linger in anyone’s memory.
What’s really missing from Haunted Trail aside from persistent scares is a compelling villain. In the place of an intimidating and memorable killer, we get a fairly generic antagonist who isn’t likely to linger in anyone’s memory. Even with a handful of sadistic kills, the killer here feels interchangeable with many masked stalker from B-movie slashers. There’s a twist in the final act that works, but fails to add much excitement to the proceedings.
Haunted Trail Fails To Distinguish Itself From The Pack
Not much about Haunted Trail stands out. While the characters and performances – including the chemistry amongst the cast – is quite good, this is a pretty unremarkable horror movie. Horror fans have seen the concept executed several times in recent years. In spite of some obvious skill behind the camera, Givens doesn’t do anything new with the premise. Everything here is competent, but there’s no real scares and the slasher format is lukewarm at best. Both the final twist and ending are underwhelming. Ultimately, Haunted Trail is watchable but forgettable.