Forgive me for saying this, readers, but I honestly don’t find all that many modern day ghost stories really that interesting. It isn’t as if I don’t like the tales these storywriters spin; I do, but I think that studios spend more on CGI and other special effects that truly warrants a good cinema scare. Why? Well, when it comes to ghosts, there’s honestly something to be said for ratcheting up the fright quotient without having to resort to such post-production trickery. I’d rather be scared silly by what filmmakers don’t show me than I ever want to see someone’s face eaten off digitally. If that makes me old-fashioned, then so be it … but, thankfully, every now and then a flick like HAUNT comes along to whet my appetite.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “Years ago, Dr. Janet Morello (Jacki Weaver) saw her entire family die in their house under tragic and gruesome circumstances. Wanting a change of scenery, she sold her home to the Asher family, including teenage son Evan. Evan is the only one suspicious about his family’s supposed new dream house, and after striking up a friendship with his troubled neighbor Samantha, he discovers a way to communicate with ghosts of the slaughtered Morello family.”
There’s more – quite a bit more – but methinks you catch the drift.
Unlike a handful of other releases as of late, HAUNT doesn’t rely much on special effects to weave its spell. Instead, it presents a handful of clever characters and pits them against what appears to be a mildly haunted house, and then lets it all play out for those interested in watching.
Of course, it goes without saying that ghost stories usually incorporate a handful of weaknesses while exploring its universe. First, if you don’t believe in ghosts, then why are you even bothering with reading this review? You’ll have to be inclined to accept them as entities-of-a-sort in order to swallow what happens here. Second, the characters are never created deeply enough to overpower the story being told; by the time the credits are set to roll, the single greatest purpose of a ghost story is to make sure you’ve been scared – so if you’re looking for all of these folks to have been pulled from the celluloid exploits of, say, Ghandi, then you’re in the wrong place.
However – because characterization or greater character development is not a strength of typical ghost stories – it’s important for screenwriters to try to keep these people in the realm of the imaginable. Evan seems like a good kid. Samantha? Seems like a troubled youth. Evan’s mom and dad? Meh. They take all-too-easily to the idea of their son spending the night in his brand-new room upstairs with a girl he just met; there isn’t an iota of pushback or questioning the young man (though mom does give him the obligatory “we trust you, dear” gibberish), and that just didn’t seem even remotely real to me.
Along with that, writer Andrew Barrer serves up a few twists that don’t quite make perfect sense (Evan’s younger sister has no trouble communicating with ghosts in the house, but why is those same ghosts are so vicious with others?), but director Mac Carter smothers it all in a kind of dreamy, sugary cinematography that methinks they’re hoping you don’t notice these lesser blips on your radar. At the end of the day, they want you to believe in that magical box – the one that buzzed, hummed, and crackled with electricity – and its ability to connect you with the afterlife. Don’t ask why nobody smells the corpse obviously decomposing between the walls ‘cause that’s really no important right now.
Also, there’s a final speech delivered by Dr. Morello herself (it’s a voiceover while audiences are treated to a visual recap of specific events now that the secret is out). I’d like to think it served the picture well, but because it was captured and delivered through ten layers of nefariousness I thought it was a bit overkill.
HAUNT (2013) is produced by QED International and Revolver Picture Company. DVD distribution is being handled by MPI Media Group under the IFC Midnight label. As for the technical specifications, this is one smartly assembled set of scares, and director Carter has gone to some pretty respectable lengths to dish out some terrific sights and sounds. Lastly – if it’s special features you want – then you’re in for a welcome surprise: there’s a bevy (especially compared with other similar releases I’ve come across as of late) including a commentary, extensive cast interviews, a behind-the-scenes short, some interesting ‘Morello Case Files,’ an examination of the make-up, and the theatrical trailer; that’s far more than I’ve seen from bigger budgeted pics as of late, so hats off to all involved.
RECOMMENDED. There may be very little in HAUNT that distinguishes it from older haunted house flicks, but I’d be inclined to argue that – in today’s era of relying heavily on CGI and other post-production trickery to rouse up some scares – there’s not all that much wrong with that. You get precisely what all involved appear to have set out to deliver – a relatively bare-bones chiller that might not be as character rich or photo-friendly as some of the box office’s latest offerings but instead serves up a reasonable number of chills in under 85 minutes.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group and IFC Midnight provided me with a DVD copy of HAUNT by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.