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HAUNT (2019)

Directed by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

Written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

Starring Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford, Phillip Johnson Richardson, Chaney Morrow, Justin Marxen, Terri Partyka, Justin Rose, Damian Maffei, Schuyler White, Samuel Hunt, Brent Geisler, Briana Tedesco, Katy Durham, William Arnold

The Halloween haunt has been a staple for the October month for decades. While they have become more extreme and in your face, the haunts follow the same pattern most of the time. You go room to room, facing one scary thing after another, then the whole thing usually ends with a complex maze in the dark or maybe if it’s a higher profile thrill house, a mirror maze. Sometimes, those old haunted house attractions have used the same old scares and equipment for ages and the time shows on them. It makes it feel like the attraction might have seen better days and most likely the scares aren’t as fresh as they used to be. HAUNT, unfortunately, is kind of like this. And while the filmmakers behind this one were able to strike gold with A QUIET PLACE, they aren’t so successful with this routine scare fest.

A group of college students decide to out on the town for a Halloween celebration. When they get wind of a secret extreme haunt, they load up the van and hope for a unique night full of scares. Unfortunately, the scares in the haunt they find are dangerous and real—filled with masked madmen with a bloodlust.

From the beginning of HAUNT the budget (or lack there of) begins to show. While this is supposed to be a popular haunt attraction, even when the kids show up there are only three or four people in line waiting to get inside. Following basically the same premise as last year’s HELLFEST, but that one at least seemed to shell out some dough to make the haunts scary from a production set design level. HAUNT has none of that. The film simply looks cheap and the scares the group of kids experience simply aren’t that scary in terms of the way the attraction looks. A lot of that also has to do with some pretty bland looking camera setups and staging. The whole thing looks very flat and filmed with an eye that just isn’t able to frame the scary. For the most part, the group of kids are witnessing horror rooms from a distance, but that doesn’t mean the camera has to experience it this way as well. It all makes for a very banal trip through the beginning of this funhouse.

Smartly though, the masked maniacs in the haunt reveal their homicidal intentions early, so the tension comes from the kids being trapped in a maze of horror rooms and stalked by numerous masked threats. The film becomes a stalk and slash pretty quickly, covering up the lack of production or set design. This portion of the film becomes a little more potent in terms of scares, but all of it feels like retreads of any slasher film you’ve seen in the last 30 years. The masks of the killers are ominous and scary; playing with the dimensions of the people inside of them by stretching proportions and such. But they are doing the same kind of stalk and slash routine we’ve seen in everything from HALLOWEEN to THE STRANGERS. And while there are a few scenes that are set up decently in terms of instilling a quick jolt or jump scare, not a lot of it resonated.

The real shame is that the whole film devolves into a real mess with some rough editing, some nonsensical motivation, and a resolution that feels rushed and unsatisfying. The concept of the Halloween haunt has been done well with HELL HOUSE LLC and THE HOUSES THAT OCTOBER BUILT. Both of those were also made on the cheap, but they knew to put some time and effort into the actual design of the haunts. HAUNT forgets to do that. Instead it just uses some scary masks and hopes it’ll be enough to carry the whole film on it. Sadly, it just doesn’t work.