Review: Splatterpunk Slasher Antics Run Rampant in HAUNT, a Perfect Companion to Holiday Fare
We see popular cycles in horror and that’s not a bad thing. Whether it’s the larger genres that get run through (fingers crossed that slasher tear is on the way) or just a mood (I’m looking at you A24), it’s not uncommon to see trends. Lately, we’ve been seeing quite a few movies tackle the idea of the “haunt.” Growing in popularity each year, haunts have become part of the horror fan norm and even are edging their way into popular mainstream culture. We are now seeing a number of genre films play with the idea of blurring the lines between haunts and danger, or sometimes crossing right over it. Haunt is an example of what happens when that line is completely obliterated.
Harper and group of friends are looking to party on Halloween, like most groups of college kids are. Harper is especially ready to have an evening of letting go because she’s trying to move on from her abusive boyfriend, so her friends drag her along and decide to really do it up Halloween style: go to a haunt. So a small group sets out and finds a remotely located warehouse where a creepy clown stands guard outside, inviting them in. The group makes their way in and quickly discovers that the labyrinthian haunt is much more dangerous than it seems.
Eli Roth’s name is plastered on every piece of marketing you’re going to see for Haunt and for good reason. This is one hundred percent his brand of splatterpunk horror. The movie starts off aesthetically pleasing for any genre fan. It’s lit like a perfect fall night, the kids are all in middling costumes, the haunt itself starts off slightly scary before moving into a well designed, terrifying nightmare walk. By the time things really get rolling, the intensity is amped up to eleven and Haunt quickly flexes and shows that it’s not playing around. Written and directed by A Quiet Place writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, this is a 180 from the methodical and suspenseful tension built around that film. While Haunt still delivers a taut and tense environment, it’s with a foot on the gas and plenty of gore to spill.
It adds a lot to the film that we end up liking most of our leads. While frat bro Evan, played boisterously by Andrew Caldwell can be a loud-mouth douche, even he has his moments of endearment and he’s on the bottom of the totem pole. Will Brittain plays the charming hero archetype, we all know how that ends up in horror movies, but he is highly likable and to make it even better, it’s never with any sort of ulterior motive of carnal pleasure on the other side of his heroism. He’s truly just a good guy. Katie Stevens as Harper, however, is where we see this amazing trend of awesome final girls for this generation continue. Stevens has a traditional slasher heroine arc, overcoming obstacles and coming out on top, but even more emboldened than before. Stevens is easily the star of the show, showing vulnerability and weakness but able to believably and viably grow into her role as the ultimate badass.
Our villains are all mostly masked miscreants with a fun reveal that I won’t ruin here, but they’re all rightfully skin crawling. Damian Maffei as the Devil (who also had a fun turn in The Strangers: Prey at Night) is the most impactful of the bunch and when he makes his full turn as a bad guy, it’s spine tingling. The kills are the real spotlight of Haunt, behind Stevens performance, and they’re cleverly crafted into the idea of this Halloween tradition. Riffing off the idea of prop kills from films like Saw, it’s easy to see where inspiration was drawn from the holiday veneer on top of them makes them wildly entertaining.
Haunt is an atmospheric and brutal romp and stomp splat film. It’s not anything truly original but the pace and impact at which it runs and hits at will make it an instant favorite for anyone looking for something to fit into their Halloween playlist. Ultimately, Haunt will hit you like a bloodsoaked bat to the side of the head, and you’ll like it.