MRR Review: "Haunt"

Photo Credit: IFC Midnight

Rating: R
Length: 86 Minutes
Release Date: March 07, 2014
Directed by: Mac Carter
Genre: Horror

"Haunt" is a well-paced and effective haunted house chiller released by the IFC Midnight distribution imprint. IFC Midnight has attracted the attention of horror buffs and other fans of genre flicks in recent years for its dedication to bringing high quality, low budget horror and science fiction films to a wider audience. "Pontypool," "High Lane," and the experimental "La Casa Muda" are some of the company's domestic success stories. It is not outside the realm of possibility that the spooky and atmospheric "Haunt" could join their ranks.

The film begins with Evan, an introverted teenager who has just moved into a new home with his parents and two sisters. The stately, remote farmhouse is reminiscent of "The Amityville Horror." It is big, dark and imposing, and it looks like it has a lot of history as well as a lot of spooky corners and crawlspaces.

Morose Evan doesn't like his new home much, but he is a person who seems accustomed to putting on a brave face. The young Australian actor who plays Evan, Harrison Gilbertson, does a competent job with the part, especially considering that most of the heavy lifting of the movie falls on his shoulders.

As is generally the case with haunted house films like this one, Evan's new home is the site of a past tragedy. The family that lived in the house prior to his moving in lost three children in rapid succession, all under mysterious circumstances. Next, their father died in what seemed at the time to be an accident. The mother, the last surviving member of the family, moved out soon after.

By this point, most viewers will have guessed that this string of tragic "accidents" were actually not accidental at all.

Evan and his family do not know the history of the house when they move in, but local gossip quickly fills them in on the basics. Evan's practical and rational parents try to brush off the stories as local superstition, but in no time strange things begin to happen.

A troubled neighbor named  Sam befriends Evan, but she seems to have reasons of her own for wanting to get inside the murder house. Still mourning the death of her mother year earlier, Sam is seeking proof that life after death exists and that perhaps her mother's spirit is still around. Together, she and Evan uncover a mysterious radio in the attic of Sam's home that seems to have the power to allow communication with the dead.

As the pair begin investigating the deaths that occurred in the house years earlier, they accidentally unleash a malicious spirit with the power to control and manipulate people's bodies. Tensions in the house begin to run high, especially when Evan's younger sister starts behaving in a strange and threatening way.

At this point, "Haunt" abandons all resemblance to the stiff and claustrophobic "Amityville Horror" and begins to look a lot more like James Wan's loopy modern haunted house films like "Insidious" and "The Conjuring." This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does seem to make a distinct shift in the way horror movies present their monsters: from lurking shadows and suggestions to jittery CGI creations displayed in full for the audience to see.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. The ghosts in "Haunt" are actually pretty scary, and the film does not suffer much for revealing them early and often. Like the spirit in "Mama," these ghosts seem to have real depth, and the way they move places them firmly in the uncanny valley in such a way that they are genuinely unsettling.

In addition, lots of downtown in the plot gives the film's tension room to grow. Though the events in "Haunt" all happen relatively quickly - over the course of just a few days rather than a few weeks as the usual time line for movies of this type - the film actually spends more screen time developing the budding relationship between Evan and Sam than the relationship between humans and ghosts.

Though unlikely to win any awards for creativity, "Haunt" is a perfectly serviceable haunted house movie. It is well-paced, has some good scares and rarely hits a false note. All aspects - cinematography, acting, script, sound design, and so forth - are done well, which, as many low budget horror fans can tell you, is often cause for celebration in itself. Though unlikely to join the ranks of the great horror classics, "Haunt" is perfect for those late nights home alone when you want to feel a little scared.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5