Written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods
Starring Katie Stevens, Will Brittain amd Lauryn Alisa McClain
MPAA rating: R for horror violence/gore, and language throughout
Running time: 1 hour and 32 minutes
by Emily Maesar
I’ve been holding my breath about Haunt. It’s Scott Beck & Bryan Woods’s first film after the success of A Quiet Place, which was actually their sophomore writing effort. That movie fucking slaps, but there was also a lot of discourse around how much of it director John Krasinski had rewritten (because he has a credit on it, which is insanely hard to get, and has talked quite openly about it since). So, what was the next film from these promising writers going to look like?
The concept for Haunt is simple, fun and a breeding ground for gore. It’s also the same basic plot as two other horror films from the last year and a half: Rooster Teeth’s Blood Fest and Gregory Plotkin’s Hell Fest. The logline for all three films reads like this:
On Halloween night, a group of friends go to a haunted house (or a festival), where the scares and violence are decidedly real.
And you know what? That’s a fun idea. I’m not certain if any of the films really hit it, but it’s a solid, interesting base to start from, even if it’s been done three times now. The movie in question, Haunt, stars Katie Stevens as Harper, a college girl trying to break up with her abusive boyfriend on Halloween. She goes to a party with her friends and on their way back to campus they see a setup for a haunted house. There’s a waiver, they have to surrender their phones, and oh, yeah, the guy at the front has a scary clown mask and doesn’t actually speak to them.
It seems like fun, at first. Some light jump scares with fake skeletons, a maze where the group gets seperated, and some extremely creepy stuff involving getting inside a coffin. It’s soon revealed when the group reconnects, sans one friend, that the haunted house is not a game. Their missing friend is murdered in front of them, and from then on it’s a race to get out of the booby trapped warehouse and escape the masked people trying to kill them. (Which I’m extremely interested in, but the film offers no real explanation for them and doesn’t seem to care how they came to be.)
What’s nice about Haunt, though, is also its undoing. The film keeps moving which, for this type of horror film, is always great. It’s less than 90 minutes and by the time we’re a third of the way in, a friend is dead, a couple people are injured, and the desperate escape begins. The film never lets up with the violence, horror and creepiness. But it also gives us nothing about the characters to hold onto. Which, I’m actually fine with - I don’t need to know everything about these characters with a movie like this. Broad strokes are fine. Except with Harper. If you’re going to make a final girl, I want to actually know about her - especially since a final girl’s history is usually what makes her an excellent one.
The film is so short, but I could have done with another fifteen minutes to actually show more of Harper’s past. The flashbacks are lacking, ugly compared to the rest of the film and confusing to boot when you get to the escape room scene. Happy Death Day (and its sequel) is a much better example of taking a character who we meet as a fully formed, broken person, and giving them and their actions meaning through backstory. And you know what? That movie is only 10 minutes longer than Haunt. It’s totally doable.
Ultimately, Haunt is fine. It’s a serviceable, schlocky horror film, and sometimes that’s just what you need. Katie Stevens is a star, I just want to see her in something like this where we get to care deeply about her character, because I just don’t here. And only time will tell if A Quiet Place was an anomaly in Beck’s & Woods’s careers. It’s very possible it is, but at least Haunt is fun. As long as they keep making fun stuff, I think that might be okay.