Haunt was a bit of a sleeper hit upon its initial release. The film quietly made its way to DVD without a lot of fanfare. That kind of distribution strategy is often indicative of a project that a distributor doesn’t have a lot of faith in. But why anyone wouldn’t have the utmost confidence in Haunt is pretty well beyond me.
Fortunately, people were able to look past the flick’s lackluster release strategy and see a truly inventive genre picture that treats viewers to scares, likable characters that make (mostly) smart choices, and a truly satisfying finale.
Co-directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (writers of A Quiet Place) have really gifted fans with something special via Haunt. This tale of a group of friends that make the fateful decision to visit an extreme haunted house only to discover that its proprietors have something very sinister in store for them.
The aforementioned group of friends are not your typical horror movie caricatures. The relationships between the cast members feel entirely authentic. Harper (Katie Stevens) and Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain) seem like real friends. They look out for one another and that goes quite a ways in terms of humanizing them. Harper’s backstory is horrifying and comes across as really authentic. The film is not all about gore and guts for the sake of gore and guts. Although, there is a decent amount of carnage on display.
The effects are brutal and grotesque but this is a slightly smarter horror film than the torture-fueled genre fare that had a moment in the wake of Saw. Haunt isn’t fine art. But it it’s far from a throwaway effort. The filmmakers aren’t using violence for the sake of violence. They are utilizing graphic imagery to torture the audience. These are characters we have come to care for and seeing them suffer is excruciating and nerve-shredding. And that’s precisely what Beck & Woods were going for in Haunt.
It’s really jarring to see characters we’ve grown to care for meet panful demises and that leaves us in a place much more susceptible to further terrorizing. Beck & Woods really understand that it’s close to impossible to make a truly effective horror film if we have no investment in the characters.
Not only do we get well-developed characters, we also get elaborate and impressive set design. The sequences that take place in the haunt (most of the film) are gorgeously rendered and always serve to heighten the intensity of already tense situations.
Moreover, the brilliant sound design evokes memories of The Strangers (for me). I was really kind of blown away by the effective use of all-encompassing audio effects. The deep, sharp nature of the sounds that accompany particularly intense sequences had me on edge in the best possible way.
Beck & Woods have a real sense for timing and subverting expectations. Their ability to measure the audience that everything is ok right before pulling the rug out from under them is remarkable. The timing is so perfect. Beck & Woods know just how to prey on our sense of self doubt. If you delay the expected outcome long enough, people will begin to wonder if said outcome is ever going to happen. And the second that sense of curiosity becomes the foremost thought in their head, that is the point when Beck & Woods drop the anvil on your head. And God, it is effective!
I could go on about the film for hours. But I will stop here. Let’s dive into the special features (which are off the hook). Ronin Flix really outdid themselves with this release and managed to collect amazing bonus content, even in the wake of Covid. They were able to get surprisingly good quality footage and audio with all of the actors featured seeming to have done interviews from home. However, it’s not grainy Skype footage with sound that cuts out and pixelated video. This is really impressive stuff, particularly when one stops to consider everything 2020 has thrown our way.
The disc boasts three featurettes; one 30-minutes in length that gives viewers a unique behind-the-scenes look at the making of Haunt and also provides interviews with the creative team and on camera talent. In addition, there are a couple of mini docs.
One of the featurettes lets the viewer get inside the heads of Beck & Woods. And it’s pretty phenomenal. It was so intriguing to hear where they were coming from and what their vision was for the flick. It was so amazing to really get solid answers from them that go beyond the typical EPK-style questions.
A third mini doc gives viewers access to genius sound editor Mac Smith of Skywalker Sound and he answers so many of the questions I had about the film’s incredible sound design. My only complaint (if you could call it that) is that it isn’t longer.
Moreover, you get a series of deleted scenes, the Q&A from the premiere at The Egyptian, and a ten minute video diary from Beck & Woods recording during preproduction and beyond.
This is the home video release Haunt deserved the first time around. That’s to say nothing of the fact that it was robbed of a theatrical exhibition. If you haven’t picked up your copy of Haunt on limits edition Blu-ray yet, what are you waiting for?
Wicked Rating: Film 9/10 Blu-ray: 10/10