There have been a lot of horrors set in Halloween haunts as of late, from The Houses October Built to Hell Fest to Extremity, so, this Shudder produced flick needed to impress coming in with a concept that is already becoming familiar…and not only does it do that, it might be one of the best horrors this year.
Story finds pretty Harper (Katie Stevens) trying to part with abusive boyfriend Sam (Samuel Hunt) and heading out to party on Halloween night with friends Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain), Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford). At a club, they run into a couple of guys, Nathan (Will Brittain) and Evan (Andrew Caldwell) and decide to leave with them to find a Halloween haunt, dragging a reluctant Harper along. They stumble upon one such haunt, in the middle of nowhere and soon find they may have picked the wrong haunt to haunt.
Flick is directed intensely by the A Quiet Place writing duo of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who also scripted here. It’s premise may not be novel at this point, but is carried out very effectively. It starts out tense with Harper putting on make-up over a bruise suffered from her alcoholic boyfriend and Bailey trying to convince her to finally break up with him. We find out in flashbacks that Harper’s father was also an abusive alcoholic and all this personal drama gives the character some emotional depth, much like Extremity‘s emotionally wounded Allison. We are thus sympathetic to Harper, and her friends, too, as they are all likable characters, especially when we start to realize those running this backwoods haunt are in it for some deadly thrills of their own. The pranks start out playful and then get mean spirited before becoming lethal. The violence is sparse, so it has impact when it occurs and there is some decent gore once things really start to get vicious…and Harper finally learns to stand up for herself and fight back. Beck and Woods build some good old-fashioned suspense and stage some nicely intense set pieces to put our likable leads through. Obviously, not all of them make it and killing off main characters makes us feel unsure about any of their safety. It adds to the suspense. The film looks cool and the sets are well rendered on what appears to be a modest budget. It has a Halloween feel and an atmosphere of foreboding throughout. The costumes for our haunt folk are creepy and they are equally spooky without their Halloween masks. We don’t get to know them very well, or their motives, but they come across as deranged and dangerous and that helps this work. Add to that a very cool score by Tomandandy, and you’ve got a very effective Halloween themed chiller that makes very good use of a now familiar setting. Any issues here are minor, such as the movie evoking some of the other haunt set flicks mentioned earlier and the addition of Harper’s jerk boyfriend Sam to the action in the last act, doesn’t really add anything to the proceedings. Otherwise this is a very solid horror.
The cast of fresh faces really helps this flick click. Katie Stevens is very impressive as Harper. She’s a girl with a painful past, dealing with her own issues and finally learning to fight for herself, when thrown into a nightmarish situation. The actress makes her likable and sympathetic and we’re totally with her when she goes on the offensive. Actress McClain is very likable as best pal Bailey. She’s a caring person and looking out for her friend makes her endearing to us. Will Brittain is a solid male lead and he is charming, handsome and his Nathan seems like the nice guy Harper really needs. This makes us like him and fear for him. Caldwell is fun as the obnoxious and bombastic Evan. This character could have been annoying, but script and actor avoid that by presenting his sarcastic humor in the right degrees. He is also brave when he needs to be. Raja and Helford get the least focus of the group, but the actresses make them extremely likable supporting characters with the scenes they have. The key to a horror flick’s success is feeling empathy for it’s main characters and here we do. It also needs effective villains and our masked haunters, Chaney Morrow as “Ghost”, Justin Marxen as “Clown”, Terri Partyka as “Witch”, Justin Rose as “Vampire”, Damian Maffei as “Devil” and Schuyler White as “Zombie” all give their characters a lethality from under their already effective costumes. Last but not least, Samuel Hunt makes the brutish Sam appropriately dislikable with what limited screen time the character has. A solid cast all the way around.
Overall, Haunt is a chilling and intense horror that overcomes the familiarity of a recent horror trend by simply being really good at what it does. It’s intense, scary, has some striking violence and gore and makes good use of it’s spooky setting. It gives us some very likable lead characters, including a three dimensional and sympathetic final girl, to root and fear for and some dastardly villains to be fearful of. Really solid horror and a very spooky surprise from Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, producer Eli Roth and those great folks at Shudder.
3 and 1/2 (out of 4) creepy haunt hosts.