Dir. Scott Beck & Bryan Woods (2019)
A group of friends run across a haunted house set back in the woods that is run by a group of sadistic murderers.
I've never really been big on haunted houses. I understand their value to the horror community, and I definitely appreciate the hard work that the haunters put into delivering such amazing experiences to local Halloween enthusiasts, but it's just never really been my thing. I can, however, easily see the possibility that things can go horribly awry at places like these, and how easy it would be for someone with nefarious intentions to make things even more scary than they might otherwise be. If, for instance, a group of serial killers took over an abandoned factory and decided to open their own "haunted house" for the public...
When a group of teens leave a Halloween party and head home, the run across a haunted house that is off the main road, way back in the woods in what looks to be an abandoned factory. They're met at the door by a creepy clown who lets them into the building after they all surrender their cellphones to a lockbox for which the teens will hold the key. As they are left to explore the building, they come across one terrifying scene after another as the people running this attraction aren't nearly as benevolent as they initially seem. The friend must try to escape before they wind up the next victims of the bizarre killers who run the factory, lest they meet an excruciatingly bloody end.
I don't remember where I came across this film for the first time, but I know that it was shortly before it was released to a wide audience. I was surprised to find that it was written (and directed) by the pair who wrote A Quiet Place, another excellent movie with a wildly different strategy to scare its audience. I was also surprised to find that this wasn't some dumb, low-budget schlock and was instead a refreshing, original take on the neo-slasher with a surprising amount of gore and a some of the most impressive makeup effects that I've seen in years.
Make no mistake about it, there are parts of the movie that don't work as well. The acting is, largely, just so-so, though the actors playing the killers do a phenomenal job. Despite the shocking amount of violence, I would have liked for it to have gone a step further, to not pull any punches and go all out a la Terrifier 2. But in a world where seemingly every major release is a franchise film or a remake, coming across something that is truly original and can unnerve its audience is a wonderful surprise in a genre that seems to be filled with edgy one-trick ponies and ignorant misogynistic cheese.
It really is the makeup effects that steal the show. The killers have all undergone some sort of body modification, a fascinating subject in its own right that I'd love to see explored even further than American Mary was willing to take it. While it's difficult to imagine that Haunt could end up being a franchise itself, I loved the risks that the filmmakers took in presenting a film that was bound to have its detractors simply due to the appearances of its stars. The film maintained many of the slasher tropes while also playing a bit on the boundaries, putting its victims in moral quandaries and forcing them to make difficult and ultimately fatal choices. It's rare that a film has the sort of cojones this one does, and it was a delight to watch.
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who wrote and directed this film, have received a good amount of attention for their John Krasinski and Emily Blunt-starring monster flick, but I rarely see people mention this film, and it's a shame. It is a pitch perfect representation of Halloween, and it very well deserves to be on people's yearly watchlists. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, especially with the brutality present in some of the death scenes, but it's an excellent pseudo-slasher that has found a ton of fans in those who have come across it. I definitely recommend checking it out this spooky season.
Who this movie is for: Slasher fans, Clown lovers, Uber drivers
Bottom line: Haunt is never going to be on a "best of" list, but it's a hugely underrated indie slasher-ish movie that is absolutely well worth a watch. There are multiple great kills, some truly horrifying makeup effects, and a truly stellar set design that make this the haunted house from Hell. If you haven't seen this one, check it out this Halloween. It's streaming on Hulu, and you just might find a new favorite.