There are many staples of Halloween; costumes, trick or treating, jack o’lanterns, and of course, the haunted house. The latter of which makes for a perfect setting for Halloween set horror, as it’s the perfect cover for deadly terror. Enter Haunt, a new slasher set in a haunted house on Halloween night. The college co-ed group looking for thrills and chills find themselves instead fighting for their lives, a plot that likely sounds familiar.
Written/directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the scribes behind last year’s hit A Quiet Place, Haunt wastes no time getting straight to the point. After a brief montage opening that shows an unseen person preparing a haunt and traps within, we’re introduced to Harper (Katie Stevens), a college co-ed covering a black eye with makeup while reading aggressive texts from her abusive boyfriend. Her roommates convince her to come out with them to a Halloween party at a bar, where they meet Nathan (Will Brittain) and his loud mouth sidekick. The newly formed group of six then keep the party going by seeking out the haunted house advertised on a flyer. Way off the beaten path, they venture into the haunt and quickly realize something is seriously amiss.
Early on, the eponymous haunt teases inventive set pieces and visual gags. The group enters a hall decked ceiling to floor with webs filled with fake spiders. And many that are real. It’s a tense scene that highlight’s one of the group member’s arachnophobia, which pays off in a big way in the very next scene. But the narrative doesn’t play out as creatively after that moment. The rest of the haunt and set pieces become far plainer as it puts the accustomed slasher formula into effect.
Beck and Woods want this narrative to be ambiguous; is Harper being stalked by her jealous, abusive boyfriend or is there something more sinister with the convincing scare actors, all sporting masks that represents a major Halloween icon. There’s no finesse to any aspect of the story, though. It’s clear right away from the opening montage who’s the red herring and who’s not. The only character with any backstory at all is the final girl, the rest are nondescript. Many of which aren’t even given an archetype to commit to. Nathan is presented as the new love interest, but there’s zero chemistry between the actors. The abusive boyfriend is never as big of a factor as he should be either, making Harper’s journey to overcome her history of abuse ineffective and questionable. In other words, we never care about anyone, even when the film desperately wants us to empathize with Harper.
Luckily, Haunt looks great. Ryan Samul’s cinematography is crisp and stunning, the lighting is effective, the color palette is appealing, and the creepy ‘40s and ‘50s inspired Halloween masks are great. The deaths can be bloody, lending to some great gore sequences – even if the kills aren’t particularly memorable. Haunt is a well-executed little slasher visually, with great music by tomandandy, but it’s undone by a dull and familiar slasher setup.
The influences are plain as day. The Funhouse, The Strangers, and even Saw are all woven throughout, but without the innovation or imaginative set pieces that made those movies memorable. Despite what the premise suggests, there’s nothing “extreme” about this haunt. It’s a normal haunted attraction used as a playing field for murder. The characters are picked off one by one in predictable order, and there are no surprises in store. For those nostalgic for the slasher craze of the ‘80s, there might be enough visually to scratch that itch. Otherwise, it’s a forgettable slasher and a wasted opportunity to really let loose with its concept or its Halloween setting.