‘Haunt’ Raises Scare House Subgenre to New Heights [Review]
Haunt is as beautiful as it is brutal, and it’s probably the best of the “killer haunt attraction” subgenre within the greater “Halloween horror” subgenre, a searingly tense reminder that the scariest monsters are in fact real.
While The Houses That October Built and its sequel took a realistic found footage approach, Hell Fest is ultra cinematic, and Blood Fest is a meta horror comedy more akin to Scream, Haunt plays it soberingly serious, striking at the heart of what makes this simple, perhaps overused, scenario so terrifying. And boy is it effective in producing numerous legitimate scares.
Written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the duo who wrote and produced A Quiet Place (and the upcoming Stephen King adaptation The Boogeyman), the tension is relentless and the dread is palpable, as a group of friends venture out to experience an advertised “extreme haunt”, where they get everything they came for and much more.
Let’s start with the all-important masks. Beck and Woods have shared on social media (see below) that the masks in the film were inspired by vintage Ben Cooper-style masks, but given a more modern, more sinister upgrade from production designer Austin Gorg and his team. They depict some of the all time iconic figures of Halloween, including a witch, ghost, clown, and devil, among others.
Katie Stevens is phenomenal as Harper, a survivor in an abusive relationship, turning in an emotional, layered performance. Is her dangerous boyfriend Sam behind the terror at the haunt, or could he somehow redeem himself as a hero? And Harper’s trauma goes much deeper, as it’s later revealed that as a little girl she witnessed her father abusing her mother.
So she’s seen some terrible things and she’s been through some horrible shit, and all she wants to do on this night is to kick back at a costume party with friends. It’s not long before a mysterious figure in a red devil mask (played by Damian Maffei; read our interview here) catches her eye, as she fears she may have caught his as well.
Lauryn McClain is also excellent as Harper’s best friend, Bailey, likable and supportive till the end, as she encourages Harper to loosen up and enjoy herself at the extreme haunt their friends Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Heford) want to attend with the guys they just met.
Outside the nondescript haunt, a large man in a clown mask has them sign waivers and then collects each of their phones before they are allowed to enter. At this point, the audience is way more worried for these kids than they are for themselves, and the intensity only tightens from here on in.
Contained to the titular extreme scare attraction, the film knows exactly what it is and delivers what it promises with plenty of treats and even a few tricks that the most seasoned horror lovers might not see coming.
The scene when the group of friends first realizes that the “act” is actually real is easily one of my favorite movie moments of 2019. As the characters try to escape the maze of trap doors and hidden tunnels within the haunt, the masks begin to come off, revealing new horrors underneath.
Almost the entire film takes place on Halloween, and it was actually shot in the fall (of 2017 in Kentucky), so the atmosphere is ripe with autumn colors and fitting holiday imagery throughout the early scenes, before entering the haunt itself, which is a wicked cool modern update of a classic funhouse with old school “games” like “Guess the Body Parts”.
The blood flows and there’s gore aplenty, but it never feels overindulgent, as Beck and Woods again display their mastery of making the most of a seemingly simple concept. The film preys on the implicit trust that we all inherently hand over to the mysterious operators of any small time haunted house.
Heart-pounding and highly recommended, this one has definitely earned a spot in regular October rotation for years to come.
Haunt is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime here.
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