Writing is a struggle. Too much exposition gives the appearance of being a churlish jerk who sucks all of the oxygen out of a room. While too little exposition has the air of being aloof, uncaring, and unwilling to let the audience in on the scares. Weirdly, Haunt vacillates between both words, but manages to tell this spooky story in the most ineffective way possible.
Haunt, directed by newish directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (both with A Quiet Place writing credits), follows an all-too-perfect gaggle of college kids out for a debaucerous booze orgy. Sadly, even though each of the college cohorts is a stereotype of a stereotype, the they all play their individual conventions flat and subdued.
Eventually, as the group decides sashay from a raucous party, the group’s own Bluto Blutarski (Evan, played by Andrew Caldwell) suggests they hop in the car and go to an EXTREME haunted house. This tepid suggestion simultaneously requires suspension of an exceptional amount of disbelief, and causes the audience to pause and question the dated reference to things EXTREME in 2019. Both are a hard pill to swallow.
Naturally, a little tipsy and a little teenaged, the group forges ahead to the absolutely middle of nowhere where they’re met by…wait for it…a creepy clown. The clown demands they hand over their phones and sign waivers — replete with their addresses? — effectively precluding them from litigation should the extremely extreme haunt become too extreme. The group passively and mildly agrees to both. Mind you, there are no other cars at this haunted house, no other participants, and it’s in the middle of NOWHERE. But sure, anything in the name of extreme.
As the group begins to meander their way through the purposefully hokey haunt, peculiarities begin to emerge that force the group to begin to finally question the awesomeness of their extreme decision making tree. Sprinkling in some horrific scenes and some spooky scares — including a rather ghoulish witch torturing a fellow teen — directors Beck and woods begin to paint a “something’s not right” picture among the terrified teens. As the haunted house scares unfold, the film opts for a clumsy and ill-shaped narrative about the lead protagonist and the heir apparent to Haunt’s final girl throne, Harper. She’s dealing with the trauma brought on by her abusive father and the…wait for it…the haunted house that his abuse manufactured. Using a handful of throwback sequences the audience is afforded the opportunity to better understand Harper’s trauma and how she might in fact use this history of abuse in her favor.
The zombie, the ghost, the clown, the devil, the vampire, and the witch begin to reveal themselves with an almost non-existent pastiche of who they are, why they’ve concocted this Rube Goldberg-like haunted house maze, and what the end game is to this haunted game. Some of the ghouls speak, some don’t. Some are sympathetic, and some appear to be circumstantially complicit in the horror show. The ghouls (largely) appear to all share one characteristic — under their masks is another more sinister self-induced mask of mutilation, tattoos, and piercings. Sadly, much like Art the Clown’s outing in 2016’s Terrifier, and the Pin-up Girl, the Man in the Mask, and Dollface from 2008’s the Strangers, the audience is never let in on their horror story.
A single maniacal killer (read: Michael Meyers) is an easy and explainable sell. Six, possibly more, freakish freakshow freaks with a single penchant for halloween-based torture just doesn’t hold a whole lot of water. When faced with such profound believability issues the writers should, nay must, give some, even the most trite, understanding of what makes these freaks so freaky. Without a little writing to go with the spookshow we’re all just left with a boring pile of mildly freaky freaks.
Haunt is rated R and available for streaming everywhere.