The leaves are turning and the smell of pumpkin spice is in the air. Autumn, or as I like to call it, Horror Season, is approaching. You don’t have to wait until October to get your chills from a haunted house thanks to the new horror film Haunt. Haunt is a story about a group of friends looking for a scary night out on Halloween. They decide to go to an “extreme” haunted house in the middle of nowhere. Once inside the haunted house they discover just how terrifying an attraction can be. Soon their night of fun becomes a night of terror as they try to find their way out of a deadly maze of dark tunnels, escape rooms, and clown-masked fiends.
Haunt succeeds where many haunted house themed films fail. It manages to make the audience feel like they are actually in the haunted house. This is due in part to the excellent direction of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who also wrote A Quiet Place. Beck and Woods bring their talent of writing tension-filled stories to Haunt. From the minute the friends reach the entrance of the attraction, until the very end of the movie, they manage to build up and maintain the tension with every scene. Part of this is because of the wonderfully dark and twisted set pieces they have crafted. Each room has its own creepy identity that invokes a feeling of dread. I have seen a number of films similar to this where the filmmakers seemed to get too complicated or too over-the-top in the room design, but this is not an issue in Haunt. The production design has just the right touch of scary props and effective lighting to give it a real life feel. I loved what they did with the place.
The performances of the actors also helped to maintain the feeling of danger. Sometimes in horror films the portrayal of fear can be too exaggerated but the entire cast of Haunt gave very realistic reactions to the scary things that were happening. I also liked how these characters did not become annoying and were not nearly as stereotypical as you may expect. What was also limited were the number of bad decisions made by the characters. That is not to say that all the decisions were good. There is an action taken by one of the friends during the climactic third act that was particularly dumb and nearly took me out of the scene.
Katie Stevens plays Harper, a young woman with a troubled past and present. Stevens gives us a sympathetic character who seems weak at first, but as the story unfolds the audience realizes just how strong she is, even when she doesn’t. Harper’s friend Bailey is played by Lauryn Alisa McClain. I loved the dynamic between these two and it felt as if they were friends. The grounded performance of the entire cast gives the audience a group of people they quickly grow to care about enough to not want anything bad to happen to them, even though you know it will. The masked antagonists of the film were disturbing in all the right ways. They were shrouded in shadows and mystery, which made for some very scary characters.
Sound design has always played an important role in horror films and Haunt has a wonderful sound palette. It is not just the instrumental score, but all of the creaks and squeaks that you hear within a haunted house come out to play. There is a particular scene that involves a muffled sound that behind a closed door. This sound is later used to help warn the audience that something bad is about to happen. It was one of the many simple yet effective tools used to bring the fear.
Haunt is an exscreamly entertaining fun house ride that should be on everyone’s watch list for 31 Days of Horror. While the story may seem familiar, the sharp direction, solid performances, and fantastic haunted house setting keep things fresh and entertaining. I can see it becoming one of my regular watches for Halloween and I think you will too.
Look for Haunt in theaters and on demand / digital on September 13, 2019.
P.S. Stay through the credits for a haunting cover of a classic Rob Zombie song sung by Lissie.