FEARNET Movie Review: 'Haunt'


The problem with teenager-oriented horror-thrillers is that, at least to this former teenager, they're really stupid. Teenagers may not have a lot of life experience but they're usually pretty sharp, which explains why they love a good horror flick. Unfortunately most horror flicks geared toward teenagers are written for the dumbest teenager in the room, which explains why so many producers try to populate their scary tales with pretty people under the age of 20. The actual screenplay is rarely a priority.

But hey, here's a new indie horror flick about teenagers and haunted houses that isn't A) moronic, B) boring, or C) a formulaic retread simply hoping to cash in on one profitable weekend at the box office. Like the recent (and also rather interesting) Vincenzo Natali film Haunter, Mac Carter's Haunt treats its youthful protagonists like actual human beings -- and that certainly helps to raise the stakes once the scary stuff starts hitting the screen. 
Haunt starts out with a suitably creepy little backstory before we settle in with a predictably comfortable premise: a happy family of five is moving into a gorgeous old house... a house in which numerous terrible things have happened in the past! (Cue lightning storm.) Our main characters are a sweet 18-year-old boy and a mysterious new girlfriend who meet under odd circumstances, and... OK, let's cut right to it. Evan's adorable new girlfriend is most likely a ghost. Probably. At the very least she knows a lot more about the Asher family's new house than she's letting on. Plus she pops up in Evan's bedroom once or twice, which is something a teenage girl ghost might do.
The young leads (Harrison Gilbertson and Liana Liberato) are as charming as they are photogenic, and if you think a low-key but quietly effective ghost story needs a few boosts from a supporting cast, you're in luck. Haunt offers the effortlessly lovable Ione Skye (as Evan's mom) and the enjoyably creepy Jacki Weaver (as the haunted house's former owner) to keep things interesting during all that pesky character development and story exposition.
Perhaps a tad too calm for those in the mood for a non-stop cacophony of slamming doors and bleeding walls, Haunt earns points for simple things like strong dialogue, effective performances, (very) evocative cinematography that particularly shines during the scary bits, and a story that won't win many awards for originality, but at least manages to inject a few new ideas into a generally familiar tale of ghosts, mansions, creepy old ladies, and (oh, yes) a mysterious box that can speak to the dead.
Haunt may not be as flashy as The Conjuring or as self-reflexive as Haunter (which, again, is really worth a look), but it's a respectably old-school chiller that feels sort of refreshing after watching so many high-tech, post-modern, and uber-subversive horror flicks.