Any horror fan looking at Haunt could be forgiven for getting excited in a hurry. The writing and directing duo behind the film is Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who wrote A Quiet Place, and Eli Roth’s name is among the producer credits. The premise, too, is potentially compelling, following a group of teens who enter a seriously sketchy haunted house attraction, which proves to be more extreme than they expect. Unfortunately, the execution here is very poor, with the story never really blossoming beyond its initial idea.
The member of the group elevated to protagonist status is Harper (Katie Stevens), who we meet applying make-up to hide a black eye apparently given to her by abusive boyfriend Sam (Samuel Hunt). Her roommate Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain) convinces her to go to a Halloween party, where she quickly bonds with attractive classmate Nathan (Will Brittain).
Along with some other buddies, they all decide to go to a supposedly extreme haunted house in the arse-end of nowhere. Before long, they’ve agreed to seal their phones in a locked box and delve into a weird world presided over by an apparently mute guy in a clown mask. What could possibly go wrong?
Of course, there’s horror going on behind those doors, and the members of the group soon find themselves separated and subject to various unpleasantness. There are passageways with trapdoors, red hot pokers jammed into places they really shouldn’t go and all manner of killers marauding around in scary masks. Explicit nods to horror classics come thick and fast, from the obligatory early shots of Night of the Living Dead playing on TV to one killer who is an obvious callback to Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Beck and Woods love the genre, and they aren’t afraid to show it.
The problem is that they don’t bring anything new to the table. The design of the maze-like house itself is intriguing, but it never has the invention of the underrated Escape Room earlier this year. Mostly, it’s just a selection of claustrophobic passageways and dark holes for characters to push their arms into. This stuff has all been done before and there’s not even the knowing silliness of last year’s deeply mediocre Hell Fest to rescue this one from the dismal purgatory into which it falls.
It’s not uncommon for horror movies to deal in disposable, thinly drawn characters, but Haunt takes it to another level. Harper, played with reasonable intensity by Katie Stevens, is given an abuse-based backstory, which only occasionally seems to pique the interest of the filmmakers, but everyone else is simply one of a revolving door of teen horror stereotypes. Any iota of nuance or intrigue is immediately stamped out by the deeply formulaic storytelling on display.
It’s not necessarily that Haunt is a complete disaster, but it is certainly calibrated towards a particular kind of setting. Those browsing a streaming service in search of a quick, dirty spookfest with a handful of solid jump scares will find little to offend them here. However, Beck and Woods have constructed a movie that will be immediately familiar to anyone who knows the work of the genre maestros of either the past or the present. It’s a busted pumpkin of a Halloween flick, sadly.
Dir: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Scr: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Cast: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford, Samuel Hunt
Prd: Mark Fasano, Todd Garner, Eli Roth, Ankur Rungta, Vishal Rungta
DOP: Ryan Samul
Run time: 92 mins
Haunt is out in the UK now via horror streaming service Shudder.