Eli Roth. As I’ve always said, comparing his directorial efforts like HOSTEL, CABIN FEVER, and his homage to Ruggero Deodato and Italian cannibal films, THE GREEN INFERNO, to his reduced involvement in other films such as AFTERSHOCK, which I really liked, I prefer his producing and acting work to when he puts on all the hats, (writing/producing/directing). Even though HAUNT suffers by comparison to some other films of the same bent, with even more meager budgets, this film just convinces me that my previous opinion about him still holds true.  The basic problem for my taste is that Roth’s tendency to see everything through a “bro-tastic” lens, complete with the borderline juvenile humor that comes with, doesn’t wear very well after a couple of repeated viewings of things where he has more creative input, so it’s less of a problem when he produces, but leaves the heavy lifting up to other writers and/or directors.

Such should have been the case with this movie, the brainchild of writers/directors Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, who hit a major home run co-writing the script for the first installment of A QUIET PLACE, with that film’s director and star, former ‘THE OFFICE’ ensemble member, John Krasinski.  But for a film that really wowed fans with its unique presentation of a tried-and-true premise within the sub-genre of monster movies, HAUNT won’t provide much of the same potential the duo displayed before, to bring something fresh to the table.

The plot is pretty straightforward as these kinds of movies go. A group of friends, including Nathan (WILL BRITTAIN) and Harper (KATIE STEVENS), are “steered” towards a remote extreme haunt, while out looking for some Halloween night hijinks. Impressed by the eerily silent clown that eventually gives them entrance, after they sign their lives away (literally) and give up their cell phones and the car keys, the night begins to take that deadly turn we all expect it will, as the group begins to suspect that the murder set-pieces they witness throughout the haunt are not faked instances of “smoke-and-mirrors”. Fears most definitely confirmed as they start getting picked off one-by-one.

Highly original? Not even close, especially if you’ve already grown used to this scenario, courtesy of past films like the Tobe Hooper classic, THE FUNHOUSE, or the now-highly controversial creepfest, CLOWNHOUSE. More recently, the franchises for HELL HOUSE LLC and THE HOUSES THAT OCTOBER BUILT are fresher examples.

The qualities that set HAUNT apart from other entries in the haunted-attraction-gone-very-wrong genre are three things: a couple of setups that are clever, (but not really the kind of thing you haven’t seen before and done better in similar films); a little bit of a ramping-up on the gore, and the truly frightening revelation of the killers’ identities behind the funhouse costumes, as dyed-in-the-wool psychopaths. No long expositions or background stories needed here, kids: these killer clowns are who they are, and do what they do, because they love it. Which is always more viscerally arresting and unsettling than that usual “Daddy Didn’t Love Me/Mommy Loved Me Way Too Much” trope.

It also makes certain reveals a lot more effective as shock scenes, but that’s about as far as I want to go in the way of spoilers. The acting by the entire cast overall isn’t anything to make you sit up and take notice, though the guys playing the haunt workers are pretty solid.  Genre fans may or may not recognize him as the guy in the “Devil” mask here, but DAMIEN MAFFEI is the only “name” in the cast, having appeared as one of the titular killers in THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT sequel.  The special visual and makeup effects teams are the real stars here, and one particularly gross bit is a callback to a recent scene in the “Bad Superboy” shocker BRIGHTBURN.

I wish I could point out more remarkable aspects to recommend, but it’s basically not-too-tame yet not-really-horrifying fare. The standard stock characters are here to get killed off, and you do feel empathy for them…well, sort of. The climax, as they usually do, hints that room might be found for a sequel, but it would really have to raise the stakes and the production values to warrant that. (I hope.)

I really can’t give HAUNT much more than two-and-a-half out of five stars.

Posted by Samuel Glass

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