×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Haunt’

A Halloween haunted house attraction provides scares that might be hazardous to your health in this familiar but effective indie horror movie.

Director:
Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
With:
Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford, Phillip Johnson-Richardson, Chaney Morrow, Samuel Hunt.

Rated R  1 hour 32 minutes

Haunt,” an early Halloween arrival that traps its collegiate protagonists inside an all-too-fatal holiday attraction, delivers a satisfying quantity of creeps and frights that more than compensate for the occasional lull. A step up from found-footage horror pic “Nightlight,” Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ last directorial collaboration, this latest isn’t a beacon of conceptual originality, either. But that doesn’t matter much, as the writer-directors (co-scenarists of “A Quiet Place”) have a firm hold on atmosphere and demonstrate diverse enough suspense tactics to avoid a sense of slasher formula — while nonetheless hewing fairly close to that template.

With producer Eli Roth’s name as an additional lure, this above-average if not quite truly memorable shudder machine should do well among genre fans in a limited 10-city theatrical release Sept. 13, simultaneous with On Demand and digital launch.

Though shot in Kentucky, “Haunt” is set in Carbondale, Ill., an improbably named but actual midwest college town. It’s Halloween, of course, and things are already a little too scary for heroine Harper (Katie Stevens from MTV series “Faking It”): She has an abusive, alcoholic boyfriend who has recently given her a black eye and keeps sending angry text messages. Covering up they eye with makeup and trying to ignore his threats, she lets herself be persuaded into going out by bestie Bailey (Lauryn McClain), plus fellow housemates Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford).

They land at a costume-party dance where Harper makes the acquaintance of nice-guy Nathan (Will Brittain), as well as his somewhat overbearing pal Evan (Andrew Caldwell). The six wind up looking for a haunted house amusement to end their evening with a few chills — even as Harper fears bad boyfriend Sam (Samuel Hunt) may be trailing them, providing cause for real anxiety.

Popular on Variety

Largely by accident, the group arrives at a warehouse-turned-extreme haunt off a lonely country road, where they’re promptly relieved of their cellphones and made to sign liability waivers. The frights get vivid quickly as a screaming young woman is seemingly branded by a red-hot poker — which they nervously laugh off as a good illusion. But such rationalizing goes out the window at the half-hour point, when one of our protagonists goes missing and another is seriously wounded. Things get much worse from there.

Mostly eerily silent, the villains are a half-dozen or so costumed figures with generic identities (Clown, Vampire, etc.), whose masks sometimes nod toward famous movie ghoulies (Leatherface, Ghostface from “Scream”). We get no intel as to who they are or why they’ve set up an elaborate Halloween haunt to lure victims for very real homicides. The ambiguity works; any straightforward explanation would likely dilute the menace of these robed, mute messengers of death committing heinous acts out of sheer malevolence. Suffice it to say that on the rare occasion when one of them does unmask, the visage beneath is not at all reassuring.

Likewise, “Haunt” maintains enough of a poker face to pull off the potentially hackneyed device of flashbacks in which we glimpse Heather’s childhood in an abusive home — no doubt the reason she got involved with an abuser like Sam (who does eventually join the proceedings, uninvited, to his inevitable great misfortune). This sort of hot-button backgrounding can seem tasteless and exploitative in a horror context. But the filmmakers lend their enterprise sufficient seriousness that it instead provides some emotional weight without souring the basic thrills.

Those scares are plentiful and run a gamut, making good use of the various creepy, claustrophobic, icky and unpleasantly surprising frights of an inventive haunted-house attraction. There are relatively few rote jump-scares, and quite a number of nicely unsettling moments. Violent peril is often present, but the film doesn’t dwell much on gore. Austin Gorg’s imaginative production design and Ryan Samul’s often luridly lit cinematography keep things visually stimulating. Editor Terel Gibson refrains from action overkill while maintaining a tense but often unhurried pace that rarely lets things lapse into slackness. Even the brief ebbs, however, help ratchet up the overall sense of dread.

The actors aren’t given much character complexity to work with, but neither do they portray stock cannon-fodder types, and all acquit themselves well. The same can be said for “Haunt” in general: It offers nothing particularly new, yet it fulfills the only requirement that really matters for this kind of movie — it’s scary.

Film Review: 'Haunt'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Aug. 26, 2019. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 92 MIN.

Production: A Momentum Pictures release of a Momentum and Sierra Pictures presentation of a Broken Road and Nickel City Pictures production. Producers: Todd Garner, Mark Fasano, Vishal Rungta, Ankur Rungta, Eli Roth. Executive producers: Nick Meyer, Marc Schaberg, Josie Liang, Tobias Weymar, Jon Wagner, Sean Robins, Jeremy Stein.

Crew: Directors, writers: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods. Camera (color, HD): Ryan Samul. Editor: Terel Gibson. Music: Tomandandy.

With: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford, Phillip Johnson-Richardson, Chaney Morrow, Samuel Hunt.

More Film

  • Richard Jewell Olivia Wilde

    'Richard Jewell': Kathy Scruggs' Roommate, Family Angered by Journalist's Portrayal

    Penny Furr was Kathy Scruggs’ roommate when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter got a major scoop involving the investigation into the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. Scruggs had discovered that Richard Jewell, the security guard who had evacuated the area before the bomb exploded, saving dozens of lives in the process, was a suspect in the attack. [...]

  • Alexandre Desplat

    Alexandre Desplat Combines Mozart and Bowie for Greta Gerwig's 'Little Women' Score

    There have been multiple film and TV versions of “Little Women.” But composer Alexandre Desplat and writer-director Greta Gerwig had a non-traditional idea for Sony’s 2019 version: “We wanted the music to be a duet of Mozart and Bowie,” Desplat laughs. There are no rock music touches in the score, but there is a modern [...]

  • Clarence Thomas

    Film News Roundup: Clarence Thomas Documentary to Get Theatrical Release

    In today’s film news roundup, a Clarence Thomas documentary and “Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always” are getting theatrical releases, and Lionsgate is developing a Rabbids movie. RELEASE DATES Manifold Productions has slated “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words” to open in theaters nationwide on Jan. 31, Variety has learned exclusively. The documentary about the [...]

  • Danny Aiello Do the Right Thing

    Danny Aiello: Spike Lee, Mia Farrow, Cher and More Remember ‘Do the Right Thing’ Actor

    Following the news that character actor Danny Aiello died on Thursday night, friends and peers of the “Moonstruck” actor shared their remembrances via social media. Aiello — whose body of work included Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “The Godfather Part II” and Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” music [...]

  • Willem Dafoe The Lighthouse

    Willem Dafoe on Early Film Roles, Working With Robert Eggers on 'The Lighthouse'

    A four-time Academy Award nominee, Willem Dafoe developed his cinematic charisma — seen in films like “The Florida Project” and “At Eternity’s Gate” — in his early career in theater. After studying drama at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dafoe moved to New York in 1976 and joined what would eventually become The Wooster Group. His [...]

  • Theodore Shapiro Music Composer

    How Music Illustrates the Shifting Dynamics in 'Bombshell'

    What stands out about Theodore Shapiro’s score for “Bombshell” is that the music isn’t frantic despite being set in a fast-paced environment — Roger Ailes’ newsroom at Fox News. Instead, the score straddles two worlds: that of Ailes and that of the women who worked for him.  “[Director] Jay [Roach] and I talked about finding [...]

  • Just Mercy Movie

    How Period and Real-Life Subjects Informed Costume Designs for 'Just Mercy'

    When Francine Jamison-Tanchuck signed on as the costume designer for “Just Mercy,” the true story of defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael B. Jordan) and his fight to overturn the murder conviction of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), she was drawn to the prospect of depicting real-life characters through her work.  “It can sometimes be more [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content