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by Scott Beck & Bryan Woods

The search for seasonally-appropriate horror movies is very much under way, and there's something particularly heartwarming to this hardened horror fan in coming across a film that treads familiar ground in a new, kick-ass pair of shoes. I can only imagine it’s what many people feel when a new Christmas movie gets released on the Hallmark Channel. The truest horror network…

Haunt very much fits the bill of a tried-and-true concept with a unique polish. There have been a handful of haunted-house-attraction horrors that have attempted similar feats in the last five years alone; see 2015’s Funhouse Massacre and Haunted House LLC (which spawned two sequels) and, more recently, Blood Fest and Hell Fest in 2018. It’s no wonder, then, that this film felt the need to bring out the big guns for its marketing; name dropping modern horror icon Eli Roth right there on the poster despite being only one of ten Producers/Executive Producers involved in the project.

It’s a rare thing that a movie can take a ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ approach to promotion and still deliver the goods on watching, but Haunt comes through. The plot barely warrants a synopsis: group of friends, extreme haunted house, deranged psychopaths, unexpected descent into insanity. But where it shines is the slow, creeping, insidious dread that sits alongside commendable practical effects and occasional body horror in a way that elevates it into an efficient, deftly-paced visual feast. It grabs you by the neck and forces you down every step of its own hellish labyrinth.

While you’re given just enough characterisation to feel bad for the players as numbers start to dwindle, only in the case of Katie Stevens’ Harper do you get a fleshing out that adds anything more to your empathy meter. Her character’s limited backstory adds another little layer of mystery/suspense to the proceedings that might, in lesser hands, feel redundant or obvious.

Indeed, what may at times seem like obvious tropes are not always outrightly subverted. Rather, Writer/Directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods leave enough low-hanging-fruit that even seasoned horror fans will have to play a guessing game at times. It’s a formula that works in their favour, seeing as it sits alongside enough originality to ensure you’re not mad when a potential twist may (or may not) end up playing out exactly as you suspected.

The central band of ghoulish psychopaths are arguably worthy of their own franchise, and moments throughout the film during which they are revealed serve as some of the runtime’s most unsettling visuals. Haunt, however, does reveal only what it needs to, when it needs to, and it’s pleasing to find a film that doesn’t blow all its mystery out of the airlock in the final act. There’s plenty of nightmare fuel in what is shown so there is no lingering frustration with such restraint as there might be in a lesser film.

Overall, this one simply felt refreshing - a perfect seasonal slasher that neither attempts to reinvent the wheel nor settle for anything less than some good solid scares.

Haunt is available on Shudder now.

Ryan Kennedy, HMS

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