*** (out of 5)
March 7, 2014
Harrison Gilbertson as EVAN
Liana Liberato as SAM
Ione Skye as EMILY ASHER
Jacki Weaver as JANET MORELLO
Danielle Churchran as SARA ASHER
Studio: IFC Midnight
Directed by: Mac Carter
BY KEVIN CARR
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One of the most interesting film genres of the 21st century is the horror film. Every ten years or so, the genre as a whole goes through a new evolutionary phase. Sometimes this leads to terrible trends, like torture porn or found footage. Other times, it leads to some brilliant trends, like the modern version of the ghost story.
Films like “Insidious,” “The Conjuring” and “Sinister” are mainstream hits that have revolutionized the horror genre. Smaller films like “The Woman in Black” and “Mama” also feature this trend. Now, this style of filmmaking has moved into the independent world and will hopefully replace the overwrought found footage style that is currently polluting the genre.
“Haunt” is a horror film that strives to be a modern haunted house film. It forgoes overt gore and shakycam for atmosphere and well-placed jump scares. It embraces a return to practical ghosts on set rather than plastic-looking CGI smoke and mirrors. Even if it’s not as effective as its larger-budgeted counterparts, “Haunt” is a brave and committed entry into the new era of haunted house films.
The story follows the Ashers, a family that has moved into an abandoned house. The house has a nasty history, featuring murder and spirits, particularly the death of the previous owner’s entire family. I’m not sure why the new family wanted to move in here, but I suppose there was a wicked deal on the real estate.
Evan Asher (Harrison Gilbertson) is the teenage son, and he sparks a relationship with a girl named Sam (Liana Liberato) who lives nearby. Together, they start poking into the house’s history and even use an artifact found in the house to try to contact the other side. When it shows signs of working Evan gets spooked, but that doesn’t stop apparitions from appearing.
“Haunt” is a slightly more intimate story than you’ll find in the larger haunted house movies. It’s not about demonologists or ghost hunters. Instead, it’s about typically naive teenagers meddling in something they don’t understand and paying a price for it.
Roughly half of the film focuses on the relationship between Evan and Sam, which seems to dip its toe a bit too deep into the teen angst angle. Still, this makes sense considering the film seems to be aimed at a teenage audience rather than a mainstream adult one. In this context, the movie works as a nice little slumber party thriller to watch with the lights off.
For the most part, the acting is better than you’d expect for a smaller film like this, and it’s helped by Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver as the mother (and only surviving family member) who previously lived in the house, Ione Skye in a surprising appearance as Evan’s mother and Liberato as the somewhat mysterious girl involved with Evan.
“Haunt” isn’t as intense as the poster might lead you to believe. Rather than being a screamer, it’s more of a slow burn, but it’s ultimately effective. The denouement leaves a bit to be desired, and the shocks the movie tries to deliver aren’t as strong as they could be. However, “Haunt” still makes an entertaining watch for the haunted house fan.
Even with some wrinkles in the film, “Haunt” is worth supporting because it’s a solid stab at legitimate filmmaking. It doesn’t rely on a gimmick or tired trends. Instead, it attempts to present a unique ghost story with a bit of mystery, and I welcome the effort.