"Haunt" (2019)

A group of college kids find themselves stalked inside an extreme haunted house attraction in Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ (A Quiet Place) violent new feature film Haunt (2019). Things go slice in the night as the group is pursued by a gang of bloodthirsty psychos who seem preoccupied with altering their faces and the body parts of hapless guests.

It also happens to be Halloween night and our beautiful heroine Harper (Katie Stevens) has just reluctantly ended it with her abusive boyfriend only to immediately rebound with the even hunkier Nathan (Will Brittain) at a party. Although nothing happens between them, they orchestrate a perfect meet-cute and decide to gather up four other friends to celebrate the holiday at a haunt attraction.

En route, Harper feels they are being followed and demands they pull over on a desolate Chicago dirt road when out of nowhere a trailer marquee lights up near the car reading “Haunted House” with the “Haunt” part glowing brighter than the rest.

Intrigued, the group throw caution to the wind and follow the road leading to the attraction where they willingly give up their cellphones to a creepy clown attendant before signing a waiver and venturing inside. What they endure is a bloody Grand Guignol production where the actors attack the audience with an assortment of weapons and booby traps.

It all gets pretty bloody as each of them starts realizing the kills aren’t performances and try to escape.

Haunt is a slasher plain and simple. There is a backstory about Harper’s abusive father and her ongoing bout with PTSD. But in the end, various sharp implements and traps are used in the funhouse to dispose of the visitors in various ways; usually through extreme trauma to the head.

Carotid arteries don’t pump this much blood.

Beck and Woods know how to gather an ensemble and flesh them out to be more than just psycho fodder and in this film they again work with an excellent cast who elevate themselves above shopworn tropes.

Katie Stevens is better known for her television roles, but broadens her emotional range here as an abused young woman taking risks to break the cycle only to be thrust into a more extreme version. Stevens gives her character a victim’s heart but doesn’t let her hide behind it. She knows the character is at the verge of an epiphany which she allows her to claim even through the horrors of the night.

Mention should also go to a wonderful performance by Andrew Caldwell who plays Evan, the comic relief of the group. Caldwell has some strong scenes and even though he plays the class clown he doesn’t reduce Evan to a sight gag. It’s a great performance that might get lost in the buckets of blood.

The villains are also remarkable, each dressed in stylized versions of classic Halloween characters, from a witch to a clown to a ghost. They are scary enough in disguise, but more grotesque once their freakish faces are unmasked.

Haunt is the perfect Halloween movie. It’s got blood, realistic kills, and nicely edited suspense. We get a final girl and even a pre-credits stinger which I’m still not sure works.

Where it fails is in its mechanics of percieved free will. I felt that some of the setups required the characters to be in the right spot at the right time which makes it feel as though the killers could foresee the choices long before the victims made them naturally. The “serendipitous” placement of the marquee for instance.

It’s those things that pull you out of the film, like seeing the strings in a carnival dark ride but getting a kick out of it anyway.

Haunt is a slaughterhouse stocked with great gore effects tempered with above-par acting and genuinely creepy monsters. Its heart remains visible through the many other brutalized organs.

“Haunt” is in Theaters, On Demand/Digital: September 13, 2019.