Friday, March 07, 2014

Haunt: A House is not a Home

If you have seen The Grudge, you understand the dead are rather angry at the world in general. As it happens there are very specific reasons why the Ashers’ new house does not have such a homey feel. Their teenage son and his new girlfriend will find themselves caught up in the supernatural goings on in Mac Carter’s Haunt (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Evidently, Evan Asher has some issues in the past, but his parents initially think this move will be good for him, especially, when he immediately picks up with Sam, a nice girl from the trailer park side of the tracks. Unfortunately, his room is right next to the house’s secret cellar door, where it all went down, whatever it was. Coming across an old radio tube contraption of a Ouija board, the teens inadvertently stir up the angry presences even more.

Although the Asher parents remain duly oblivious, freaky things start happening. Yet, Sam still prefers crashing at their house than dealing with her abusive father. Jane Morello, the mother and only surviving member of the previous family, ought to have some insight into the house’s dark history, but she is reluctant to talk, except to provide the film’s occasional voice-overs.

Haunt is a good example of how a horror film can realize a very creepy vibe on a limited budget. All the ominous nooks and crannies of the house and that cursed box give the film a memorable look. While the narrative is relatively simple, Carter does not blatantly telegraph the final shoe to drop. In fact, following the big reveal, he wraps it up rather precipitously, almost seeming rushed.

The kids are at least alright in Haunt, particularly Liana Liberato, who comes across much more natural and grounded than the cringey problem daughters she played in Erased and the train wreck that was Trespass. Harrison Gilbertson helps make amends for Virginia’s manic-depressive melodrama with his reasonably restrained and engaging work as the teenaged Asher. It is a little mind-blowing to see Ione Skye (from Say Anything and River’s Edge) as the clueless mom, but she is fine adhering to minimal demands of the time-honored stock character. However, it is Jacki Weaver who really gets to chew some scenery in her all too brief appearances as the widow Morello.

Ironically, Haunt probably would have been less effective if it had greater resources at its disposal. Flashy special effects would have ruined the intimate scares. Ragged around the edges, but respectably scrappy, Haunt is recommended for horror movie fans when it opens today (3/7) in New York at the IFC Center.