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Movie Review: ‘Haunt’

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Haunt

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Hollywood has been targeting the haunted house and ghost story genres of late, with movies like 2010’s Insidious, 2012’s Sinister, and 2013’s The Conjuring all successful contributors to the genre. Add to this list 2013’s Haunt. Although not as refined or as scary as the previous films, Haunt nevertheless is a solid horror story that continues to evolve the genre in ways most horror fans will approve.

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The story of Haunt begins with the Morello family. The family has been mysteriously cursed, and all three of the Morello children have died horribly (their deaths all look like suicides). Weak patriarch Franklin Morello (Carl Hadra) uses a paranormal “radio” to contact his dead children, but before he can establish solid communication, he is killed by a powerful female apparition.

The story shifts to a new family moving into the house. Also made up of five members, the Asher family is a bit underdeveloped when it comes to the parents, but the three children are full-developed characters who avoid the usual, annoying horror characteristics. Evan Asher (Harrison Gilbertson) is a typical teenager, aloof and introverted, but he also supports his parents and strives to be a good person. His older sister Sara (Danielle Chuchran) is college bound—she is down to earth and supportive of her siblings. Youngest sister Anita (Ella Harris) is a cute kid who longs for someone to play with.

On a walk one evening, Evan meets Sam (Liana Liberato), a young woman abused by her drunken father. The two form a bond, principally because Evan suffers from White Knight Syndrome and Sam yearns for stability. The couple soon finds the paranormal radio, setting off a chain of events that will change their lives forever.

As ghosts begin to manifest throughout the house, Evan and Sam find their way to the lone surviving Morello, pediatrician Janet Morello (veteran actress Jacki Weaver in a creepy performance), who may hold the key that unlocks the mysteries associated with the Morello curse. As with all ghost stories, the truth will exact a terrible cost, and both Sam and Evan will have to pay a terrible price.

The principal problem with Haunt is the movie’s final story. I don’t know what Andrew Barrer’s final script looked like, but the film itself suffers from too many loose ends. For example, there are quite a few ghosts in the movie, but only one really constitutes a threat. There is a sequence where it seems like Anita is being coerced by the ghost of the youngest Morello daughter (Maggie Scott) to join her in the pool where she herself drowned. However, nothing comes from this scene, and we never learn the fate of that ghost and its interactions with Anita.

Another problem with the script is that it simply borrows too much from material that has preceded it. This type of formula writing hurts Haunt, as horror fans prefer fresh stories.

So, is Haunt worth watching? I would say, “hell yes!”

Although first-time director Mac Carter is not savvy enough yet to avoid the pitfalls of loose ends and cliché storylines, he does have a definite knack for compelling stories filled with original and believable characters. Carter avoids the obligatory “jump” scares, instead building each of the movie’s scare sequences slowly and deliberately so that they have maximum effect. He also handles the plot twists well, showing rather than telling so that the audience is left to come to its own conclusions. This type of filmmaking makes Haunt a worthwhile experience.

Carter is also exemplary when it comes to milking the best performances from his actors. Of course, it helps when the cast turns in good performance, and Haunt does not suffer any poor acting. Gilbertson and Liberato have excellent chemistry, and Jacki Weaver is a joy to behold, her wide eyes and leer communicating more evil than any makeup effect could ever hope to produce. The only weak link in the movie is the Archer parents, who seem a little too aloof and casual about their children’s goings-on.

Although not horribly frightening, Haunt does deliver the chops at the film’s climax. Another refreshing approach is that the film relies mostly on practical effects, using old-school scares and makeup effects. CGI does play a role, but only to accentuate the practical effects. Those looking for a character-driven ghost story with some good twists and turns would do well to watch Haunt. I for one can’t wait to see what director Mac Carter does next.

The movie comes with some good bonus features, including filmmaker commentary, cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes, a trailer, and marketing materials (some case-file videos and home movies of the Morello family). The DVD’s cover artwork is horrible, but don’t let that fool you, as the movie itself is very much worth watching.

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