Recovery just might kill ya in “Havenhurst,” an OK horror outing with Julie Benz (“Dexter”) as a newly sober woman investigating a friend’s disappearance in the titular rambling Manhattan apartment complex. Ghosts of movies from “The Seventh Victim” to “Rosemary’s Baby” to Tobe Hooper’s “Toolbox Murders” remake haunt the musty halls of a competently crafted meller that never quite finds a distinctive narrative slant or atmosphere of its own. Nonetheless, director-co-scenarist Andrew C. Erin’s film will pass the time tolerably enough for genre fans. Already released in several territories, it opens in eight U.S. cities Feb. 10, simultaneous with its launch on VOD.
Discharged from a rehab facility, Jackie (Benz) is a bit shaky but determined to stay on a straight-and-narrow path, despite lingering guilt over the accidental death of her only daughter, caused by her boozing. She’s even more determined to find out what happened to recovery buddy Danielle (Danielle Harris), who’s seemingly vanished without a trace — and whose same apartment, in a fine old Gothic building, Jackie gets assigned in an eerie “coincidence.” Havenhurst’s doyenne is Eleanor (Fionnula Flanagan), a queenly matron who claims she lets the spacious flats out to people like them because she wants to help addicts of various sorts “stay sober and lead a good life.” If they fail to do so, however, they get evicted.
We’ve already guessed just what “eviction” means hereabouts, not to mention what really happened to relapsed Danielle and her boyfriend — who are violently punished for their sins by an unseen assailant in the film’s prologue. Similar fates await other tenants who backslide, including a not-so-ex-prostitute (Jennifer Blanc), and the cruel foster parents (Dendrie Taylor, Toby Huss) of a young girl (Belle Shouse as Sarah) to whom Jackie takes a maternally protective shine. Meanwhile, Eleanor claims to have no idea where Danielle went.
With police-detective friend Tim (Josh Stamberg) helping her out on the sly, Jackie snoops around Havenhurst, and what she finds looks more and more suspicious — particularly once she starts hearing the screams of adjacent neighbors, who are never heard of or seen again after receiving their “eviction” notices. It all leads to revelations involving secret surveillance cameras, hidden passages, a deep dungeon, and a serial-killer backstory that Jackie and Sarah uncover to their peril in a final reel that’s more hectic than frightening.
Indeed, despite some gore, much panicked fleeing, and the rather underwhelming introduction of a brawny maniac in “Mad Max” leather-bar attire (Douglas Tait), “Havenhurst” grows less scary the more urgently action-packed it becomes. It’s not that Erin’s direction lacks energy when needed, but rather that his and Daniel Ferrands’ script never develops any of its numerous familiar but viable plot themes enough to really give the film a distinguishing edge.
As a result, things end on a rather weak note that feels premature, as if the filmmakers simply forgot to include one last twist or flourish that might’ve made a workmanlike exercise memorable. It’s also disappointing that despite the splendid-looking hallways, lobby, and exterior of the apartment building (end-credits suggest the film was shot primarily in Southern California), the movie spends nearly all its time holed up with just a handful of characters in fewer-still apartments. We’re told there are 3,000 residents here, yet the building seems so underpopulated you might wonder if they’re all on vacation.
Nevertheless, a decent cast, brisk pace and proficient overall packaging make “Havenhurst” a respectable enough diversion within a niche — modestly budgeted, primarily direct-to-home horror — in which even “middling” often seems like a lot to ask for.