Written and directed by:
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods
Katie Stevens, Will Brittain and Lauryn Alisa McClain
On Halloween, a group of friends encounter an “extreme” haunted house that promises to feed on their darkest fears. The night turns deadly as they come to the horrifying realization that some monsters are real.
Beck and Woods, the writers of ‘A Quiet Place’, are anything but quiet in their new extreme haunted house film, ‘Haunt’. Thanks to the very real existence of extreme haunts, this new sub-genre of horror is finding a welcome home among horror fans.
Unlike your local Jaycees Haunted House, extreme haunts are completely over-the-top, blurring the lines of what can happen to you in a haunted attraction. The actors might force you to get in a coffin filled with snakes, invade your personal space, or employ a wide array of terror tactics to make you wonder if the haunt is real or not. Would you sign a waiver, surrender your phone, and put yourself through such horror on purpose? Thanks to the group of college friends in ‘Haunt’, we can learn from their mistakes.
The film revolves around Harper (Katie Stevens), a twice-abused girl that saw the worse parts of her father, and now her boyfriend, as the film opens with her applying concealer to a fresh black-eye. Hoping to lift poor Katie’s spirits, her friends Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain), Angela (Shazi Raja), and Mallory (Schuyler Helford) insist she goes out for a night of Halloween drinking. After some random dumbassery involving her friend Evan (Andrew Caldwell), she meets the typical horror movie cute guy, Nathan (Will Brittain), and her evening seems to pick up.
Worried that Katie’s douchecanoe boyfriend is tailing them, the carload of buzzed college kids pull off the desolate country road to double check. As Halloween fate would have it, an illuminated sign comes to life and points the way to the haunted house. Call me overly-cautious, but I make a habit of avoiding spur of the moment haunted attractions that mysteriously pop up unexpectedly in the deep woods.
When the crew arrives, they’re greeted by a creepy silent clown who makes the rules clear. They hand in their phones, they agree to not touch the actors, they learn they will be prompted to react in certain situations; all things that would give me pause. The group enters the haunt and the film shifts into high gear.
Beck and Woods do a fantastic job of creating an undercurrent of dread as the kids navigate the haunt. Through beautiful set pieces and nostalgic Halloween-themed games like the one where you close your eyes and feel grapes for eyeballs and chalk for bones; the film is very immersive. My wife and I clenched our teeth and threw out cautionary warnings as the kids are put through the rigors of narrow, spinning tunnels, chainsaw-welding psychos, and a cornucopia of ever maddening trials. At some point, inevitably, the scripted horror begins to change to real horror, and the film does a wonderful job of forcing the viewer to feel the kids’ dread along with them.
The film does what it sets out to do effectively, even though it brings nothing new to the table. ‘Haunt’ delivers palpable dread and tension with it’s mere premise, and shines with the film’s location, set design, and copious gore. This is classic popcorn material for the Fall, so sit back with your special someone and prepare to cringe a little, or a lot.
‘Haunt’ was filmed at an abandoned dairy farm in Covington, Kentucky, (an hour away from me) and is set in the college town of Carbondale, Illinois. a town that sure knew how to party in the early 90s – I can confirm that from personal experience.
You can experience the raw horror of ‘Haunt’ on Friday. September 13th at theaters and On Demand.
Final score: B+.