Sprawling estates seem to be more haunted than other dwellings. Most of the time it seems like a home plagued by a ghost or supernatural entity is massive, usually with enormous property that complements the size of the house. There’s just something inherently spooky about a large, old home. The one in Haunt fits the bill. It is huge, boasts plenty of outdoor space, and comes with a tragic backstory. It’s quite impressive, outside of the unwanted houseguests.
A happy family once lived in the house, but the father and three children are killed, and it appears something inhuman is responsible. Flash forward to a new family moving in, a couple with three children, including teenager Evan (Harrison Gilbertson). Before long Evan meets a troubled neighbor, Sam (Liana Liberato), and rather than engage in normal teenage shenanigans, the two attempt to communicate with the dead.
Evan and Sam are successful in their attempt to make contact. It isn’t clear with whom or what they want. Also unclear is the true nature of Janet (Jacki Weaver). She was the previous family’s sole surviving member. Is she grieving or evil? And what really happened in the house?
Haunt was written and directed by newcomers. However, some big guns produced it, including Bill Block (Elysium, the upcoming Sabotage) and Steven Schneider (Insidious, Paranormal Activity 3). What they found appealing about the project is not immediately clear. From start to finish (a mercifully short 78 minutes sans credits) it is completely formulaic haunted house fare. Loud music cues? Boo scares? Strange noises? Brief, hard to see shots of a supernatural entity? Shots of a totally still, quiet house? All of the above. You can imagine someone with a checklist in front of them keeping a tally throughout production.
The relationship between Evan and Sam is also problematic. They are soulmates immediately after they meet. Looking to escape her abusive father, she first sneaks into Evan’s house and then his bed. It seems way too trusting considering the issues she’s dealing with in her own home. To say the romance is rushed is a vast understatement. The actors are appealing enough, but they are given little to work with.
The bulk of the running time is devoted to the new lovebirds messing around with a box that allows them to contact the dead. They take turns being upset about it, with Evan being first in demanding that they stop using it and Sam following him. Of course, each is able to convince the other to keep playing with it, and the results are not good. They are also not unexpected. The ghost is angry and their reason for that anger is telegraphed very early on.
Haunt is competently made. As tired as they are, some of the boo scares are admittedly effective, and the house is an imposing structure (even though the setting feels stale at this point). One can imagine being easily freaked out inside it. It’s just that no matter how well-made it is, you have seen every minute of this movie before. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Haunt is now available on VOD; it opens in select theaters March 7th.