Combustible Celluloid
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With: Katie Stevens, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford, Will Brittain, Andrew Caldwell, Phillip Johnson Richardson, Chaney Morrow, Justin Marxen, Terri Partyka, Justin Rose, Damian Maffei, Schuyler White, Samuel Hunt
Written by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Directed by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence/gore, and language throughout
Running Time: 92
Date: 09/12/2019

Haunt (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

All Hallow's Cleave

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The promise of a good, fun Halloween-set haunted house movie is quickly dashed by a batch of weak, thinly-drawn characters, dumb decisions, and a preoccupation with torture; it's more Saw than scary.

In Haunt, it's Halloween night and Harper (Katie Stevens), who has just fought with her boyfriend, is encouraged by her friends to go out for a night of fun. She joins Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain), Angela (Shazi Raja), and Mallory (Schuyler Helford) at a bar, where they meet jock Nathan (Will Brittain) and loudmouth Evan (Andrew Caldwell).

After, the six decide to go to an "extreme" haunted house, for fun. Things turn dark quickly as they witness what appears to be a young woman being tortured. When the friends become separated and Mallory disappears, it becomes clear that there's more than just harmless fun going on. But what will it take to escape the sinister attraction?

Written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who originally wrote the clever, terrifying A Quiet Place, Haunt has more in common with the cruel, ugly works of its producer, Eli Roth (Hostel, etc.) It tries to be a throwback to 1980s slasher films, but succeeds in copying only the bad parts of those movies, with jump-scares and brutality (mainly towards women). The characters are annoying and do not seem like they'd actually be friends.

Only one, Harper, has any kind of backstory, and it's based in abuse. The others are paper-thin, and the dull, cultlike batch of killers is far less interesting than a single villain would have been. The movie fails to use its Halloween setting for anything fun (unlike the strikingly similar 1980s cult classic Night of the Demons), and even the haunted house set feels chintzy. Ultimately, it's not the house, but the characters' own bad judgment that gets them into trouble.

Haunt doesn't really work, but viewers can at least check out the comparable, yet much better Hell Fest, with its horror-carnival setting and far more interesting characters.

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