×

Film Review: ‘Haunt’

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

With:

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

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.

More Film

  • (L to R) Marco Graf as

    2018 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Winners

    Members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. are meeting today to vote on the year’s best cinema accomplishments. Recent winners of the group’s top prize include “Call Me by Your Name,” “Moonlight,” “Spotlight,” “Boyhood,” “Her”/”Gravity” and “Amour.” List of winners below. Check back throughout the morning for updates. More Reviews Film Review: 'Bumblebee' Concert Review: [...]

  • Ralph Breaks the Internet

    Box Office: 'Ralph Breaks the Internet' Narrowly Defeats 'Grinch' in Sleepy Pre-Holiday Weekend

    Disney’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” topped a quiet weekend at the domestic box office, marking the third straight win for the animated sequel. It earned $16.2 million in its third week of release, generating $140 million since it opened over Thanksgiving. Another cartooned adventure almost gave “Ralph” a run for its money. Illumination and Universal’s [...]

  • John KrasinskiVariety Actors on Actors, Day

    John Krasinski on 'A Quiet Place': Casting A Deaf Actress Was 'Non-Negotiable'

    John Krasinski’s debut feature “A Quiet Place” tells the story of a family with a deaf child, and the “Jack Ryan” star wanted to make sure he included a deaf actor in the film. “It was a non-negotiable thing for me,” Krasinski told Rosamund Pike of the casting during their conversation for Variety‘s “Actors on [...]

  • Rosamund Pike John Krasinski

    John Krasinski and Rosamond Pike on Vulnerability and Decompressing After Tense Scenes

    John Krasinski and Rosamund Pike sat down for a conversation for Variety’s Actors on Actors. For more, click here.  In “Gone Girl,” Rosamund Pike proved she could put herself through anything. The British actress, a well-loved supporting player in “Pride & Prejudice” and “An Education,” took the lead and scored her first Oscar nomination. Four years later, [...]

  • Aquaman

    'Aquaman' Rules Overseas Box Office With $94 Million in China

    “Aquaman” launched with a massive $93.6 million in China, marking the best start for a Warner Bros. title in that territory. The superhero adventure — directed by James Wan and starring Jason Momoa as the king of the seven seas — isn’t opening in North America for another two weeks, but the studio wanted to [...]

  • (L to R) MAHERSHALA ALI and

    Scores from 'Green Book,' 'Solo,' Others Disqualified from Oscar Race (EXCLUSIVE)

    First-round voting is underway for Oscar’s Original Song and Original Score categories, but Academy music-branch voters are discovering that four talked-about scores are missing from the eligibility list. Music for “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” “Green Book,” “Mandy” and “The Other Side of the Wind” has been disqualified for various reasons, Variety has learned. More [...]

  • Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson appear

    'Minding the Gap' Wins Top Award From International Documentary Association

    Bing Liu’s skateboarding movie “Minding The Gap” has won the International Documentary Association’s award for top feature of 2018. Floyd Russ’s “Zion” was awarded best short. Netflix’s “Wild Wild Country” won for best limited series and HBO’s “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” took the ABC News VideoSource Award. PBS’ “POV” won for best curated [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content