It wasn’t too long ago when JJ Films huffed, puffed and finally crapped out Talon Falls, which was gruesome for all the wrong reasons. An unmitigated mess from start to finish, the film’s four teenagers bumbled across a haunted house attraction in the backwoods of southern Kentucky, a place even the infamous Sawyer Family would fear to go.
It is hardly a surprise when it turns out that the attraction is really an elaborate kill box owned and operated by rejects from The Hills Have Eyes. Talon Falls’ blundering hillbilly homicidal maniacs aren’t even in the same league as Papa Jupiter, Pluto or Mars though. Bless you, Wes Craven.
Fast forward two years later and we have Haunt by the writer, director team of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. Beck and Woods wrote 2018’s A Quiet Place, which was directed by Jack Ryan and The Office star, John Krasinski.
Stop me if you have heard this before…
Haunt is about a group of teenagers who dare to enter an “extreme” haunted house attraction on Halloween night.
Yup. Your eyes aren’t lying. Haunt takes the same exact concept but shows what can be done with it in capable, expert hands.
Haunt’s presumed final girl is the socially awkward Harper, Katie Stevens from The Bold Type, but I won’t hold that against her. Harper is given a slim backstory but she bears the scars of an abusive father and current boyfriend so we are automatically and solidly in her corner.
Much like Talon Falls, Harper and her pals come across the haunted house by chance. Before they can enter though, they are forced to sign release forms (complete with their home addresses) and are notified of rules they must adhere to.
- Stay on the marked path at all times.
- Never touch the actors.
- You will be prompted to do certain actions. Please do as you are told. This is for your safety.
- All cell phones must be surrendered to the lock box before entering.
I would have turned tail at having to leave my cell phone behind but that’s just me.
The introduction of the rules, especially the one about being “prompted to do certain actions”, is the just the start of how Haunt has so much more detail, more layers and much more imagination than Talon Falls and other films like it.
Despite Harper’s nagging concerns, the Scooby Gang enters into the unknown. The real ‘Gang’ stand-outs besides Harper are Andrew Caldwell as the acid-tongued Evan and Will Brittain as Harper’s new baseball-bat-swinging, kiss-stealing love interest, Nathan.
Unlike in Talon Falls, the haunted house itself isn’t just a bunch of rusty walls resembling an old, abandoned warehouse. Again, there is a lot of creativity going on. There is a room with rows and rows of figures dressed as ghosts that the Gang has to walk through. There is room booming with the sound of a chainsaw from an entire wall of speakers. The Gang must crawl through one larger speaker to move on. There is a ghostly bedroom and an examination room where the Gang has to put their hands, arms through holes in a wall to correctly identify severed body parts.
Just like the haunted house itself, the crew running it have their own identities and motives as well beyond just their distinctive Halloween masks. The crucial question though is whether they are a diabolical, inhuman bunch or is everything not as it appears to be?
Haunt has more than earned its place beside other such amusement park horrors as The Funhouse and The Park. It has surpassed those films setting a new benchmark for the sub-genre easily eviscerating Talon Falls, Hell Fest or even Something Wicked This Way Comes and could very well become the newest Halloween season standby for horror fans alongside anything starring a supernatural serial killer named Michael Myers.
Top Photo: Katie Stevens in Haunt (2019). Courtesy: Shudder.