If I had my way, I'd fire everyone who works in the graphic design department of nearly every DVD studio. They've done a serious disservice to Haunt, one of the scariest new ghost movies to come along in a while. When you've got a simple, solid haunting mystery, relaxed, believable performances, and a bagful of terror, why mess that up with a generic image on the cover that doesn't even relate to the movie? Based on crappy artwork, I was going to give Haunt a pass, then I broke down and read some other reviews. Am I wrong to judge a book by its cover, or does IFC Midnight Films earn a calling-out for hamstringing a really fine film with really bad art?
Well, let's be realistic, how innovative can you be within the haunted house genre? Haunt sets us up nicely with a creepy-scary intro that finds a distraught dad, one Mr. Morello, attempting to communicate with his dead kids by way of a steampunk-looking radio to the spirit world. We learn his kids all died violently, and that something's coming for him. Ultimately, a new, living family moves into the home, getting a deal because the house is creepy as fuck. And there you have it, you're living in a creepy house, the spirits want to get you out of there, and the only thing to be decided is if you're going to try to evict them before they kill you.
Son Evan (Harrison Gilbertson) takes the attic room. Anyone who's seen The Amityville Horror knows that's a mistake, except for the nice fact that his choice lands troubled teen hottie Sam (Liana Liberato) in his bed, on the run from her abusive dad. Soon enough Evan and Sam are exploring the creepy attic storage area, and talking with the dead.
What follows is a plot engaging enough to keep viewers interested, a mystery both plausible and hard to crack, great, understated performances and more than enough scares to keep your skin crawling. Director Mac Carter opens with a fine J-Horror-style set piece that lets you know he's serious, then methodically cranks up the tension. Andrew Barber's script builds its case smartly, and reveals things slowly. The atmosphere is oppressive and dreadful, and there's a shadowy figure lurking in the background of pretty much every scene. I love it!
Haunt is a vehicle built to deliver chills. As such, it's built Ford Tough, if you know what I'm saying. But even a fundamentally sound horror movie will fail if it doesn't deliver the goods. Haunt relentlessly piles on the chills, giving this jaded reviewer not one or two, but at least six moments where every hair on my body was standing on end. Let me tell you, friends, for the horror aficionado, that's a damn good feeling. (I thought about counting the times when half of my hairs were standing on end, but decided that might be taking things a little too far. Suffice it to say, Haunt is very scary, with an ending that will have you turning on the lights.) Recommended. (Too bad about the cover art, though.)
Haunt's 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks good for DVD. No noticeable artifacts or other digital image processing problems crop up, and the panoramic image highlights a rich, albeit sickly color palette.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound parlays some nice dimensional scares, because, let's face it, that's what surround sound is for, as far as horror movies are concerned. A nicely ominous, atmospheric score sets the tone while not relying too heavily on loud cues to bolster jump-scares, while more subtle sounds in the rear channels will help creep you out. Dialog is clear and mixed in well.
Extras for Haunt are fairly hefty but have a 'ten-years-ago' feel. First up is a thoughtful, low-key Director's Commentary Track with Mac Carter, next are 47 minutes worth of Cast & Crew Interviews featuring all the main players, and 3 minutes of Makeup & Effects BTS material. Speaking of BTS, how about 17 minutes of Behind The Scenes footage? OK, you got it. Bits and bobs of incidental footage shown in the movie are presented in full here as extras, including a minute-and-a-half of Morello Home Movies and 5 minutes of Morello Case Files. Lastly, the Haunt Trailer and other Trailers plus English SDH and Spanish Subtitles round things out. While commentary tracks are bog-standard now, (and often ignored) loads of EPK style interviews, old-hat BTS material, and incidental footage from within the movie repackaged as extras simply create a low-impact, overly familiar - albeit substantial - slate of extras of the 'take it or leave it' variety.
Haunt doles out powerful chills with a truly ominous atmosphere, bolstered by naturalistic performances. If you're looking for a really scary take on an old genre, you'll be quite pleased. But if you're looking for the cover art to steer you in the right direction, you'll have to take a leap of faith. Bad graphic design aside, Haunt is Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com