Film Review: ‘Haunt’

Haunt Review

Director Mac Carter pulls off a few genuinely creepy scenes in this low-budget haunted-house chiller.

Following on the coattails of “The Conjuring” and “Insidious,” “Haunt” is a classical haunted-house thriller with perhaps little that’s out of the ordinary for the genre, but occasionally inventive execution. The winter-set ghost story follows a teenage boy (Harrison Gilbertson) and his new neighborhood crush (Liana Liberato) as they uncover the mysterious events behind the supernatural presence in the former’s new attic residence. Director Mac Carter pulls off a few truly creepy sequences on a low budget, and the film’s old-school approach, as well as the presence of Jacki Weaver in a key supporting role, may pick up positive VOD buzz before the pic’s limited theatrical release in March. 

Things start out quite suspensefully in the opening sequence, as a father frantically communicates through an eerie vintage radio device before an unfortunate end; Carter’s careful shot choices recall those in “Poltergeist,” creating a thrilling sense of dread before the cold open escalates to a bloody climax. Things settle into something more familiar after that: a house known for its mysterious murders; the new family that moves in; and the slow reveal of the ghosts haunting its hallways.

The narrative centers on the teenage Evan (Gilbertson) and his romance with the neighbor across the woods, Samantha (Liberato) — whose abuse subplot is underdeveloped and a little unnecessary — as they explore the strange history of these ghosts, especially in connection to the one surviving member (Weaver) of the original family.

While the film (scripted by Andrew Barrer) is quite violent at times, its unexpected strength lies in the way it counters such horrors with a Spielbergian sense of coming-of-age wonderment. This tonal balance serves the actors well — Liberato and Gilbertson make the most of their archetypes, having a relaxed chemistry that feels reminiscent of “The Spectacular Now” — yet one wishes that “Haunt’s” dialogue and story beats ultimately went down a less predictable path.

As the film moves toward its big reveals, Carter begins to rely too much on jump scares and less-than-impressive special effects. While the ending does have a subversive tinge, the emphasis on a character-centered climax can’t help but disappoint when the characters feel so conventional.

Production designer Giles Masters delivers an elegantly creepy house, brooding and full of shadows. Reinhold Heil’s succinctly moody score plays a crucial role in many of the scariest sequences, and the cool visual tones of d.p. Adam Marsden, combined with the icy weather, make for some spooky atmospherics.

Film Review: 'Haunt'

Reviewed online, New York, Jan. 30, 2014. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 86 MIN.

Production

An IFC Midnight release and presentation of a QED Intl. and Revolver Picture Co. production. Produced by Bill Block, John Hegeman, Anton Lessine, Sasha Shaprio. Executive producer, Nick Phillips, Kelly Martin Wagner.

Crew

Directed by Mac Carter. Screenplay, Andrew Barrer. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Adam Marsden; editor, Ruben Sebban; music, Reinhold Heil; production designer, Giles Masters; art director, Linden Snyder; costume designer, Barbara Nelson; sound, Douglas Cameron; sound designer, David Esparza; special effects coordinator, Ben Josephesen, assistant director, Brent Geisler.

With

Harrison Gilbertson, Liana Liberato, Jacki Weaver, Ione Skye, Brian Wimmer, Danielle Chuchran, Ella Harris, Carl Hadra.

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  1. Reblogged this on HORROR BOOM and commented:
    Hey, good news: if you want to see this R-Rated haunted-house movie and don’t mind paying the price to rent it on VOD, Xfinity On Demand has it under IFC Midnight. If you live in one of those “Limited Release” cities (up in Seattle, the closest they usually get to us is Portland–if that–and I’m a pretty loyal movie geek, but it’d take a lot to get us drive down to Portland to see even a really cool horror movie, such as being escorted personally by Bruce Campbell the entire time and not having to wait in line) then you *may* get to see it theatrically in March 2014. Check out the glowing review by Peter Labuza here; as an aside I’d like to bitch about how irritated I get when genre movies are referred to as “Following on the coattails of (insert similar, better-known box-office success film here)”. Yeah, the original Insidious came out before this movie, but it sounds like the filmmakers just saw The Conjuring was a huge hit and slapped something together to cash in. OK, yes, some genre movies–which I try to avoid–really do only get made in hopes of cashing in on a current trend. There are some really, REALLY bad found-footage movies out there; some even have the balls to use something close to the title (“Paranormal Entity”) as if horror fans are such fucking morons we won’t be able to tell the difference. The half-hearted hacky crap that gets released just to do that borders on insulting, and–OK, I’m preaching to the converted here, probably, and I was starting to yell at them, not you. Anyway, if a review is going to make a comparison of something that might be made in the same vein (so to speak) but independently, just use a different phrase other than “following on the coattails.” A more memorable, less vague title than “Haunt” is the only complaint I can think of right now–then again, some of the most unforgettable, exceptionally terrifying movies I’ve ever seen have simple titles (take Inside, [REC], and most recently, The Conjuring–though that beats the original boring-ass title, “The Warren Files”) Do check out the awesome ‘Haunt’ poster below:

    …and check out the review. Note: for some reason, either Variety or WordPress has changed their link to “re-blogs” from “Read More” to “

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