HAUNT **** USA 2019 Dir: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods. 92 mins
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods wrote the script for the hugely popular A QUIET PLACE while knocking out HAUNT, which arrives with far less fanfare as a hard-edged R-rated horror movie with a simple agenda to terrify. On Halloween night, pretty brunette Katie Stevens tries to forget her boyfriend woes by joining her pals for a Halloween costume party, which includes what might be the first movie appearance of a character dressed as the front half of the Human Centipede. The group stumble across a purportedly “extreme” haunted house attraction in the middle of nowhere, promising that all proceeds go to (worryingly enough) the Red Cross. The clown-masked host is a little unsettling and the initial walk through maze showcases some shocks for arachnophobes and a masked chainsaw-wielding weirdo who gets a little too close for comfort…but a member of staff reassures “We’re a little extreme here, but safety is our number one priority”.
We’re in familiar territory: the recent HELL FEST (or, if you’re of a certain age, THE FUNHOUSE) formed a slasher set-up around the premise of a scare attraction yielding a real threat, at a time when worldwide Halloween mazes and escape rooms are busy trying to outdo each other in terms of how far they’re willing to go to freak out patrons. HAUNT, however, is stripped down, superbly directed and relentlessly intense. Favouring suspense over clichés and cannily employing jump scares only in the context of the “haunt” itself, it alternates sustained dread with short, sharp and shocking moments of brutal gore. It’s a great-looking, atmospheric picture with a final girl worth rooting for and a stand-out suspense set piece in a rigged Escape Room. Plus, the soundtrack boasts a fabulous, pulse-pounding score by the prolific Tomandandy and a rather haunting cover version of Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” (by Lissie) over the end credits.
Review by Steven West