Haunt has one of the smartest twists in recent horror. The film's been out for two years now, so I feel comfortable spoiling it. The big twist is that there isn't one. This really is just a random gang of psychos who have trapped a group of kids on Halloween. From there, the film had me locked in. I didn't expect much out of it, but I think it's a winner mostly because it tricked me into thinking the super controlling boyfriend was the guy, when really he wasn't involved in the slightest and actually tried to save them (sort of). Haunt doesn't break any new ground or particularly stand out apart from its (not) twist, but it has some freakish bad guy makeup and some killer production design.
Our heroine is Harper (Stevens), an abused college teen who is being stalked by her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend. On Halloween, Harper and her friends stumble onto an "extreme" haunted house out in the middle of nowhere that's run by sketchy dudes in clown masks who don't speak. Ignoring the rampant stampede of red flags, they surrender their phones and enter the haunted house, which is constructed so elaborately for a gang of killers. The atmosphere established by the house, and then later, by the killers, is super creepy. I can see this one ending up on my watchlist for October.
I appreciated how Haunt pulled one over on me. I find a lot of horror films, especially recent ones, have fairly predictable twists. I guess that's why it caught me off guard. I can't stress enough how horrifying the makeup is for the villains. Think biker clowns from hell, or John Wayne Gacy if he was a Hell's Angel. The actors who play the kids are okay, nothing special there. You know enough about some of them so you care when they die, but it's mostly clown fodder. But the rest of the film is so entertaining that you don't really care how convenient the plot is at times or how acceptable the acting is.
So many times with horror we get to watch a certain type of film. You know the one. The director, or writer, hits it huge with his second feature. Next thing you know, the first film they worked on years ago and seemed to have issues getting released, now gets a release date. Admittedly, usually, there’s a very good reason they had issues getting their debut off the ground and into the public. They tend to not always be very good. But, there are exceptions. Every so often, there’s one where I sit wondering why this was slept on for so long. The story is tense, the acting is good, and the scares work. But, for whatever reason, studios initially passed. Something which seemed to happen to Haunt. After the huge success of A Quiet Place, the writers were finally able to get their debut feature released. And I don’t understand why it took so long. While not the best horror film, it’s certainly not the worst.
I’ll start with what does work. That being the creativity involved here. Oddly enough, we don’t get a lot of horror films centered around the popular haunted house attractions which happen every year on Halloween. So, it’s nice to see one tackle this setting and giving us horror fans a change of scenery for once. The other big thing is the villains. Makeup effects wise, the haunted house workers look good. When they take their masks off and reveal what they actually look like, they look legitimately creepy. Also, the gore effects. This isn’t the goriest slasher film I’ve seen, but what is shown looks great. Again, the practical effects look amazing and show off some suitably grisly deaths. Unfortunately, there are now some negatives to this film. The first being the characters. The actors themselves do a fine enough job, but there is very little development. These are pretty much your stereotypical slasher characters who don’t stray far from that. Lastly, the ending, for me at least, felt a bit rushed. There were a couple times where it felt like they forgot the movie was about to roll the credits, so they rushed some stuff.
Honestly, for the most part, Haunt is an enjoyable horror film. It delivers on its unique setting and features some great practical effects with the villain design and kills. The characters may not be the most memorable and the ending slightly rushed, but this is not a bad way to spend your evening. I would be interested in a potential sequel.