What’s Under the Mask? A Review of Haunt (2019)
Mateo Keegan Burbano
1 November 2019
Haunt, cowritten and codirected by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, opens on some dude dressed up in a soiled clown costume doing some home improvement to his torture house. Elsewhere, college student Harper, played by Katie Stevens, is hiding in her room from her abusive boyfriend’s constant texts and her overbearing female roommates. She lets her friends talk her into going out to party for Halloween, and breaks up with her boyo, via text, as she leaves.
The girls meet up with a couple of random dudes at a bar, and they decide to pile into a car together to check out a haunted house attraction. They GPS the address for the haunt that leads them out into the boonies. Harper is convinced the truck following them is driven by her ex dude.
They find the haunt purely by happenstance. A creepy ass clown is working the door., He has Harper pull out liability waivers instructions for the haunt from a lockbox by the entrance. As they enter the haunt, they must leave their cellphones in the lockbox.
At first, the haunt is your run of the mill, amateur-run haunted house. They enter a glassed off room. A haunt worker on the other side, dressed as a witch, appears to torture a woman. It seems a bit extreme, almost real, but the group brushes it off as part of the show.
The group quickly realizes that the haunt is legit a place where they be murdered. The group gets divided and separated. Harper’s friend, Bailey (played by Lauryn Alisa McClain) has her arms slashed up by a rusted razor blade while playing a game of blindly identifying mystery body parts by pushing her hands and arms into holes in a wall. The group panics, as does the other group after one of them disappears in a maze of ventilation shafts, only to see her get murdered by the haunt worker in the witch costume.
The haunt gets progressively more dangerous, as the group loses members to death traps and murderous haunt staff. Our lead extra-struggles, because she grew up in a haunted house. A house haunted by the presence of her physically abusive father. She hasn’t been back home in years. She fantasizes about returning to be embraced by her mother and to find her father is long gone. The film attempts to use this real-world based trauma to lend the film some girth, but her conflict mostly gets lost under the weight of having to juggle too many characters.
The rest of the film is given over to gruesome killings and thinning of the herd until Harper gets the attention her character deserves. Harper’s ex shows up, but the buildup to his appearance doesn’t lead to much. He’s quickly and nonchalantly dispatched by a haunt worker. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either a subversion of genre expectations, or a betrayal.
We learn that the haunt workers doing all the killings are biohackers. All but one are physically monstrous under their masks. They’ve engaged in horrific body and facial modifications, tattoos, piercings, implants and more. These are horror fetishists and murder enthusiasts, but they are still human. They make mistakes and can be fought off, making them more terrifying than the superhuman threats of Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. The story behind this group, what their guiding principles might be, how they found each other and came together would make an interesting film in itself.
You’ll have to watch the movie to see the killers unmasked.
Haunt is like the movies Hell Fest (2018), Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), Cube (1997), Escape Room (2019), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and House of a 1000 Corpses (2003) had a bastard love child, smeared it in shit and blood, and squatted it out in some backwoods DIY haunted house.
The film makes imaginative and gruesome use of the Haunt’s many rooms and mazes. There are a number of twists that are executed well and never insults the audience. The film seems to mostly use practical effects to pull off its many bloody, violent deaths. The gore factor is on full blast. This film is definitely not for the squeamish. The film’s ending satisfactorily uses the final girl trope and brings some of Harper’s personal issues to a conclusion. While this group of haunt killers is defeated, it isn’t hard to imagine that there might other similar groups out there, leaving the door open to a sequel.
3.5 out of 5 fire pokers to the brainpan
Haunt is currently available on Shudder