For his feature film debut, up-and-coming director Mac Carter gives us his own spin on various familiar haunted house tropes in the “better than its bland name would suggest” supernatural thriller Haunt.
It’s opening, ripe in self-awareness that we’re all more than familiar with every kind of supernatural story under the sun these days, establishes early that while Haunt may not be necessarily the most original horror movie you’ll see this year, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a well-crafted, finely executed and highly enjoyable one all the same.
Haunt begins by setting us up with a backstory to its tale, creating an early sense of tension after we witness a grieving man, desperate to make contact with his deceased family, unleashes something far more dangerous than he could possibly imagine via a mysterious box that can communicate with the dead. The story then catches up just a few months later when the Asher Family moves into the very same house and, of course, it’s only a matter of time before the unsettled spirits make the Asher’s lives a living hell.
While all that sounds rather simple, it’s the little unique touches to Haunt’s story that screenwriter Andrew Barrer peppers throughout (many, if revealed, would be spoilers), which are what keeps things mostly interesting. What also keeps Haunt interesting is Carter’s execution; what the film lacks in originality it makes up for in terms of execution, with a great sense of atmosphere, tension and some mild scares to boot. There isn’t a ton of gore or really anything all that shocking that happens throughout the film; instead, Carter goes a bit old school on us and just lets Barrer’s spooky tale of loss, deceit and family curses reveal itself slowly. He never allows any of the trapping of the usual supernatural tropes to trip him up, and builds to a stunner of a conclusion that I ultimately enjoyed (even if I did see it coming).
Also working to its advantage is a really solid cast which keeps Haunt from feeling like every other direct-to-video indie thriller that gets released these days. Carter smartly lets his actors dig into the material and the results are mostly good stuff. While I never really fully connected to Haunt’s main protagonist, lovelorn teenager Evan Asher (Harrison Gilbertson), I thought that the always stellar Jacki Weaver (Stoker, Silver Linings Playbook) keeps things moving nicely, as she provides much of the backstory here and definitely gives the material some weight with her performance.
Relative newcomer Liana Liberato is also pretty great in Haunt as she does most of the emotional heavy lifting in the film and one of my personal favorites, Ione Skye (Say Anything), does a nice job as well even if she isn’t given a whole lot to do in the story. It’s also worth noting that the cinematography in Haunt by Adam Marsden is also rather lovely, giving Carter’s film a modern Gothic feel that really accentuated the mood throughout.
As far as modern supernatural stories go these days, it feels like there are very little surprises left to discover in the subgenre, but Haunt, even with all its familiar tropes, does manage to offer up a few unexpected moments that kept me intrigued and entertained every step of the way. While it may not necessarily give horror fans a case of the heebie jeebies any time soon, it’s just nice to see a moderate supernatural thriller actually put forth some effort and not just give us another paint-by-numbers spookfest that feels like every other haunted house movie that we’ve seen the last few years. It’s an admirable first-effort by Carter and I’d gladly give him more of my time in the future if he happens to return to the horror genre again.
Movie Score: 3/5