Haunt, the new movie written and directed by A Quiet Place writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, delivers precisely what the concept promises. For better or worse, your mileage may vary, some people may like it, and all that claptrap.
On Halloween night, a group of college friends out on the town decide to take in an “extreme” haunted house. As one might imagine in a horror movie of this ilk, things are not as they initially seem and maybe, just maybe—most definitely—the horrors they encounter are real. Yeah, that’s it, that’s all it has going on.
The result watches like a generic Saw knock off with haunted house trappings and a few escape room flourishes. Full of one-note characters, clown masks, and moderate gore, there’s not much of any interest of intrigue to find here. Plot points show up at overly convenient spots, attempts at topical humor are painful, and for a movie that tries to be twisty and clever, it is neither, as every big reveal is just the most obvious damn thing imaginable at every turn.
Many of these flaws can be forgiven if there’s anything else to cling to, but there’s not. The script takes a rote plot and packs it full of characters with zero development or personality, which results in zero viewer investment. Harper (Katie Stevens) is our protagonist, trapped in a generational cycle of abusive relationships, an element handled in the most glib fashion. There’s also…backwards hat guy, who’s most distinctive trait is that got hit in the face with a baseball (not kidding), and the chubby guy, who’s defining quirk is that he’s an asshole. One friend dresses like a sexy nurse, and she’s actually supposed to be a med student and says doctor words from time to time. Another wears cat ears. And a few others. They have names, but none of them matter.
At times, the set design is cool, and if this were a real haunted house, you might get a few jumps and scares out of the deal, but that only goes so far. And of course there’s as scene with dolls and a spooky music box. But atmosphere only does so much, and as far as a movie goes, it’s bland and toothless and Haunt does absolutely nothing with any of these elements. After the third time they return to the stick-your-arm-into-a-dark-place well, and Harper says, in all seriousness, “I grew up in a haunted house,” you wonder how much longer this can sustain itself.
Film is such a collaborative medium that it’s usually tough to determine what flaws fall on a script and what are the result of a director, a performance, the budget, and a million other factors. But in this case, since, Beck and Woods both wrote and directed, and presumably had an idea what they wanted to portray, I feel a bit more comfortable being critical of that element. As mentioned, the characters a paper thin and continually make illogical choices, even by cardboard cutout villain-fodder, low-budget horror movie standards.
Any nuance, tension, or intriguing touch found in the duo's work on A Quiet Place is absent here. Things happen not because they’re earned or set up, but for the sake of narrative convenience. As the group splinters, timelines don’t match up—in most cases, it’s like the movie hits a pause button on any character not on screen.
Overall, Haunt is a frustrating movie to watch. Maybe it will appeal to hardcore gore hounds, but even the blood, outside of a couple moments, is relatively subdued. Every element is just brutally obvious and ham-fisted. I hate to rag on an indie horror movie, and I get that the directors—via a director’s statement—want to tip their cap to classic slasher movies after becoming part of the “elevated horror” conversation that goes around every time people don’t want to admit they like a horror movie. While I can appreciate that, the finished product is so tepid and lackluster there’s almost nothing here to recommend. [Grade: D]