Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Haunt: This Isn’t Disney’s Haunted Mansion

Anyone working at a haunted house attraction must be a sadistic sicko. That is clearly what horror movies are telling us these days. Initially, the Houses October Built duology was the lone voice wailing in the darkness, but it was soon joined by Blood Fest and Hell Fest. Yet another extreme haunted house turns out to be more extreme than advertised in Scott Beck & Bryan Woods’ Haunt, which opens Friday in Los Angeles.

Harper is the nice girl, who makes excuses for her abusive boyfriend and lacks sufficient money (and fun) for a decent Halloween costume. She really ought to be with a nice guy like Nathan, a college baseball player with a spectacularly obnoxious buddy named Evan. Along with her bestie Bailey and two other prime victims, they decide to visit an extreme haunt for no good reason (aside from a Yelp review claiming all proceeds go to the Red Cross).

Of course, things get horrifically violent awfully quickly. Frankly, it is hard to believe a group of millennials would agree to surrender their smart phones at the door, because what is the point of facing extreme horrors, if you can’t take the selfies to prove it? Regardless, many of them will not live to regret that mistake.

Let’s not mince words. Initially, Haunt is largely derivative and the violence is often legitimately disturbing. However, you have to give Beck & Woods (best known for co-writing The Quiet Place with Krasinski) credit for a surprisingly strong ending that is massively cathartic. Most of the film is pretty standard stuff, but when they deviate from the established horror formula, it is always for the better.

Most viewers will want to kill the abrasive Evan themselves, but at least he stands out. The rest are a bland lot, with almost no personality to speak of. It is totally the material. Arguably, Will Brittain manages to be okay as Nathan, but he was terrific as the titular Neanderthal in Tim Disney’s William. As for the rest, you could sit next to one of them on the subway home from the theater and not recognize them.

Still, when you have seen as many horror movies as we, you have to appreciate the small favors. If Beck & Woods had embraced the themes of empowerment more, they really might have gotten someplace. We don’t hate it, but there is a good chance a lot of “casual” horror fans will. Haunt just isn’t worthy of a recommendation, but we’re curious to see what the filmmakers do next, for what that’s worth. For now, Haunt opens Friday (9/13) in LA, at the Arena CineLounge.