By Mike Lewis of The Horror Squad Podcast
Horror, perhaps more so than any other genre, is truly cyclical in its ideas. Filmmakers tend to dig their claws into a successful idea and refuse to let go until the well is beyond dry. What separates horror from its counterparts is the abundance of tropes, clichés, and lore that it naturally has access to. Because our well is so deep it has the luxury of recycling bromides to the point of exhaustion, only to unearth some other monster that had fallen out of favor for a period. The Blair Witch popularized the found footage genre, which gave rise to endless successors and imitators, and The Walking Dead galvanized nearly a decade of contemporary zombie films before both dropped off relatively. By the time one idea burns out, the other catches fire.
Haunt, and films such as Hellfest, Hell House LLC, and The Houses That October Built, play on a rather new idea: haunted attractions. As these real-life businesses flourish, their appearances in slasher films have begun to surge. The setting is a natural and seamless and offers an untapped creative vein. Haunt follows a group of college friends who decide to visit an extreme haunted house on Halloween, despite blatant warning signs upon arrival such as surrendering your cellphones and signing a release form, among others. You can probably guess the next part: the attraction is not what it seems, and shit goes wrong quick.
The haunt itself in this movie is very intriguing, perhaps making the film. It doesn’t feel like a haunted house, but rather a maze, and it offers tense moments when the group initially enters. There is claustrophobia as they navigate coffins and tunnels on all fours, a sense of helplessness when they can see into certain rooms but are unable to react to what they see, and their inevitable run-ins with the “staff”, who all don the mask of a horror trope (ghost, clown, devil, zombie, etc). The first two acts of the film are strong, and, while not overly brutal or gory, should satisfy most fans with its violence. What prevails, however, is the threatening atmosphere of the attraction itself, not necessarily the way the characters die.
By the time the final act appears, the movie does become a bit tedious. It strays from its strengths and becomes a typical slasher, which isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just the climax and resolution are weaker than what actually leads to them. The characters are passable, and the killers are different enough to keep your attention. There are even moments of irony that cause uneasy humor (I’m looking at you, Ghost). If anything, you will probably be wishing to see more of the attraction than how the characters will escape.
Haunt, and films like it, add a new idea and setting into the horror well. It’s an idea that has many possibilities, an idea that fits naturally with the rest of the genre. If real-life haunt attractions keep growing and evolving, the cycle of attractions that are genuinely haunted or cursed or full of murderous psychopaths should continue to grow with them, to the approval of most horror fans.