It’s the Halloween season and everyone wants to get scared. In the Shudder Exclusive Haunt, a group of friends enter an extreme haunted house that promises to feed on their darkest fears. However, the night turns deadly as they come to the horrifying realization that some nightmares are real. Co-written and co-driected by Scott Beck & Bryan Woods, Haunt is will make you think twice before you enter any haunted house again.
The film is straightforward, a killer haunted house that a group of college kids think is just a regular extreme haunted house. And why wouldn’t they? Extreme haunts have grown in popularity and they break all the rules of what makes a haunted house on Halloween feel safe. These immersive experiences blend reality and most even have no-boundaries, which means that the haunters can touch you move you and ultimately bring frights that are very real. When the group of friends walk in, this is what they expect and it’s what they get for a bit. The haunted house itself is extremely well designed, getting progressively more extreme with each room that the group walks through.
If you saw the brutal trailer for Haunt or read the official synopsis, you watch the film waiting for something bad to happen to the group. This elevates the typical and cheesy scares that come at the beginning because you’re prepared for so much more than a skeleton popping up. Honestly, the scares in Haunt work well because of their timing and how Beck and Woods lull you into a sense of safety only to pull the rug out from under you right when you think it’s okay to think a scare is harmless.
As the night goes on and the killing begins, the maze of a building takes on a different energy. While the group as been through many of the pieces of the house before, after the first injury each and every part becomes terrifying. Then, you add in the men in some of the scariest masks I’ve seen and you realize that you’ve just strapped in a roller coaster that is full throttle and refuses to stop. Much like the haunted houses that Haunt draws its inspiration from, each act tops the other in danger, violence, and brutality.
When I pressed play on Haunt I expected buckets of corn syrup and kills that were indistinguishable from the simulated horror they’re taking place in. Instead, Haunt delivers kills that dismember, crush, pull, and rip the human body with everyday objects and it shows you every small gory detail to them. The way the film ramps up its violence is to be commended, beginning first with razor cuts, then a smashed hand, and before you know it’s we’re watching a head get smashed with a sledgehammer like it’s a golfball on the key. Easy to say that Haunt is not for the squeamish and even for me, there were moments where I needed to look away for a quick second to gain composure.
In one scene, the final girl is pushing her way to the end of the haunted house and in doing so crawling on the ground. What should be a quick crawl turns into a standstill when she realizes that her hands are stuck to the floor in a pool of adhesive. She has two choices, stay and die or keep moving and pull the skin off of her hands to do so. In true final girl fashion, she chooses the latter, ripping her skin, which is not only visibly shown but accompanied by the sounds of tearing flesh that ring in your ears and make the scene all the more unsettling.
It’s the attention to detail in the props and effects that drive home the kills. The close-ups that Beck and Woods use to highlight the violence and show the gruesome moments, like a jaw being ripped with the back end of a hammer. These shots don’t allow the team to hide behind corn syrup. Instead, each prop used for the kills is unmarred by a bucket of blood, allowing the viewer to see every detail in the kills. Additionally, the prosthetics used to distort the killers’ faces are something that is not only unnerving but scarier than their vintage Halloween masks.
With all of that being said, Haunt is nothing without its final girl Harper (Katie Stevens). In an abusive relationship, Harper is made to seem weak and timid at the beginning of the film. Like most final girl trajectories, Harper goes from docile and nearly broken to a badass who isn’t afraid to flip the tables and kill the killers. While traditional, Harper works. Additionally, from the beginning, Harper is the one who notices when things are amiss and makes it known to the group. The traditional horror movie moments that earn a side-eye are called out by Harper and that intelligence is something she brings with her through the film.
While Harper pulls together the film, the choice to include trauma in her backstory is one that doesn’t pay off. Outside a couple of flashbacks, the idea that she’s a battered woman now after being a child in an abusive household doesn’t add much to her identity. One of those things can exist without the other and still yield the same results to help propel her into the final girl.
Outside of her characterization and strength, the choice to add Will Brittain as Nathan helps alleviate some of the stress on Harper to escape and fight alone. Instead, Nathan helps her through and allows for more realistic maneuvering of the traps and the killers. That said, Nathan is a good character in his own right. He’s supportive of Harper even before things turn dark and is ultimately just a good guy to root for which is something that you can’t underestimate. Their chemistry is great but their teamwork is better which offers up characters that we can fully get behind.
Overall, Haunt is a brutal Halloween horror that delivers on violence, scares, and will make you want to avoid haunted houses for the rest of the season. While some may find the gore too much, fans of the genre’s pension for creative kills and visuals will find the film exciting and terrifying.
Haunt will be available exclusively on Shudder in the US and Canada on October 24, 2019.
Haunt is a brutal Halloween horror that delivers on violence, scares, and will make you want to avoid haunted houses for the rest of the season. While some may find the gore too much, fans of the genre’s pension for creative kills and visuals will find the film exciting and terrifying.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.