Tue. Mar 21st, 2023

Filmmakers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods may be the team behind the hotly anticipated Adam Driver-led Sci-Fi action romp 65 (releasing this week), but they sure have a solid recent track record when it comes to the horror genre. Serving as primary writers behind the shatteringly suspenseful 2018 hit A Quiet Place alongside John Krasinski – the duo next went about helming their own piece of throwback-y horror, and the results were supremely effective. Succinctly titled, Haunt (which opened in select cinemas during the second half of 2019), follows a band of thrill-seeking friends who venture into the wrong haunted house one nippy Halloween evening as the frivolity of a preceding costume party fades. Haunt is the sophomore directorial effort from Woods and Beck, but their most noteworthy film hitherto, and its spareness works wonders for its consistently creepy mood. Following its limited release, the film gradually attracted a legion of admirers through its faithfulness to the classics while affording its story a contemporary sheen.


In Haunt, the chief characters are for the most part imbued with genuine sincerity and grit, for while their plight worsens, and as it dawns on the posse that they genuinely may not escape what they initially believed was a harmless roadside attraction – none of them behave overly unreasonably. Beck and Woods clearly have a keen sense of adventure when it comes to their filmmaking style, lining up a series of gut-wrenching, nigh-insurmountable challenges for our protagonists that warrant occasional viewing through splayed fingers. It’ll be interesting to see how this adept grasp of the narrative journey translates to a much bigger beast in ’65’, but here it unequivocally works — and with their penchant for penning strong, scary screenplays on full show, it’s intriguing to see how Stephen King adaptation Boogeyman pans out with them on-board with scripting duties. Taking a reasonably well-worn story template and giving it a slightly modern update — Haunt is a fun and spooky horror vehicle for old-school fright aficionados.

RELATED: ‘Haunt 2’ Talks Are Underway According to Scott Beck & Bryan Woods

‘Haunt’ Harnesses the Power of Atmospheric Direction & Small Town Settings

Image via Momentum Pictures

One of the film’s opening shots, which captures a suburban street lost in twilit quietude and contemplation, discarding autumn leaves like drink coasters, is starkly effective and immediately captures a quintessentially Halloween vibe. It’s a credit to the directors in the way they would later counterbalance simplicity and atmosphere-enriching imagery with slick, efficient VFX. Shot in Covington, Kentucky but set in Carbondale, Illinois – Woods and Beck very effectively filmize and evoke the small town setting trope in the vein of Halloween’s Haddonfield well before events play out. The audience is then introduced to Harper (Katie Stevens) and Bailey (Lauren McClain) – a pair of best friends and roommates whose unreserved aim is to fill their Halloween night with unbridled fun. They later meet up with two more of their chums, Mallory and Angela, and quickly find themselves lost in a pulsating, colorful haze of costumed partying locals.

Despite the good intentions of her best friend, Harper is emotionally wounded and distracted by the insistent texting of her soon-to-be-ex (evidently abusive) boyfriend. Haunt touches on the aftereffects of the sustained trauma she likely had to endure, and renders Harper a compassionate, ultimately resourceful person who wants to move on but still finds one foot frozen in place. Hers is the most fleshed out character, and certain themes are lightly touched upon allowing Stevens to deliver a nuanced lead performance. Later, they meet the amiable Nathan (Will Brittain) and Evan (Andrew Caldwell) – two agreeable fellas who the group invite along on their post-party fright expedition. Harper may or not already be suffering from paranoia, as she feels threatened by a masked presence at the party before leaving.

Beck and Woods suffuse these early scenes with ominous atmosphere — it’s like the night itself already contains something nefarious in its midst, as if it’s poised to swallow them up regardless of whether they venture to an out-of-the-way ‘haunted house’ for seasonally appropriate thrills or not. Upon arriving at their attraction of interest – having bombed it down the rural highway with carefree abandon, ride-share-driver Evan at the wheel, suspense is elevated considerably. The house’s creation, including its ramshackle edifice is well-designed and strikes a curious balance between being somewhat everyday in appearance but alien at the same time. Patrolled by a malevolent looking clown, with the friends forced to yield all electronic devices before entry, the atmosphere of impending doom is played expertly. What exactly was in the waiver they signed? We shall never know.

‘Haunt’ Earns Its Scares

For this film, which succeeds both in and out of the haunted house, Woods and Beck found interest in the form of Eli Roth, who came on board as producer. The concept clearly piqued Roth’s intrigue and earned the genre director’s seal of approval – who has also produced other films for rising directors. Woods and Beck were also able to work alongside talented composers when it came to the music. Tomandandy were behind the ominous soundscape for this one, and their services proved a valuable investment. Responsible for crafting other minimalist yet effective scores for films such as The Strangers, A24’s underrated elevated horror cross creature feature The Monster, and the 2004 coming-of-age mini-masterpiece Mean Creek. Their deliberate, subtle approach to elevating dread and wonder came in especially handy when enhancing the texture of Haunt.

Once inside, the friends are initially unmoved by a series of alternative pathways presented to them within the labyrinthine structure. Assuming it to be all part of the gimmick, they plunge headlong through tunnels draped in spiderwebs (which may or not be ersatz) and fail to question why the attraction’s smattering of employees appear to be forever obscured by grotesque masks. Even when the horror escalates and after Mallory is wounded by a mystery attacker after attempting to find a loose ring within a hole in the wall, the enigma surrounding the masked tormentors remains. When one of them appears to be sympathetic, ostensibly offering them a way out of the house of increasingly grisly horrors, an admirable element of skepticism still remains.

The characters here are created to resist and question what’s put in front of them. As members of the group fall victim one by one to the masked fiends, strengths and intestinal fortitudes are tested in stomach-churningly suspenseful ways. Plagued by chilling memories of a traumatic incident from her distant past, it’s final girl Bailey who has to dig deep into the recesses of what she’s capable of in order to fell the evildoers in this instance – and we believe in her resilience. In one sequence towards the end, she finds herself in an unsettling scenario that takes her back to a traumatic moment from her distant past, forced to hide under a bed and decipher a series of abstract clues to avoid detection as an enraged tormentor attempts to gain access to the hidden room from the outside.

‘Haunt’ Pairs a Classic Setup With Savvy Storytelling

Image via Momentum Pictures

Homages to Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter and other classic flicks of the genre abounds here; the slow-building doom of certain 70s and 80 flicks looms. There are also some genuine surprises built into this script and the shock scenes are engineered with ingenuity. When the concealed madmen do unmask towards the end as to reveal their true selves, it’s genuinely shocking – all of them part of some amorphous cult hellbent on maintaining a grisly, malevolent pact to keep the ‘haunted house’ operating. Haunt’s overarching strength lies in its skillful rendering of atmosphere, setting and character. Harper and Nathan are characters forced to grasp for new levels of resolve and cunning in order to survive, and the retributory sequence at the end, serving as a cathartic coming to terms with the past and present for Harper, rises above cheese and quite literally hits sharply.

Haunt undoubtedly plays to the classics very well, but its ability to hit the right notes at the right time make it a frightening, atmospheric experience. Beck and Woods are an ambitious pair, who know to tell a story sparingly and effectively, and it’ll be interesting to seem tackle something of the grander scale. They got their shot at making a dinosaur-centric picture via 65, and it’s fair to say they’ll likely be eking some thrills out of that film’s unique setting.

By Admin

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