DirectorScott Beck/Bryan Woods
Release Date(s)2019 (October 20, 2020)
Studio(s)Shudder/Momentum Pictures/Sierra Pictures/Nickel City Pictures (Ronin Flix)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
After making the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it found footage film Nightlight and writing the original script for A Quiet Place, filmmakers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods were able to bring producer Eli Roth on board for their next project, Haunt. Shot mostly on location in Kentucky in 2017, the film finally debuted on the streaming platform Shudder in 2019 before finally finding a disc-based home with the newly-minted home media distribution company Ronin Flix.
In Haunt, we meet Harper (Katie Stevens), a college student with a troubled past and an abusive boyfriend. Her roommate Bailey (Lauryn McClain) convinces her to dump him via text message and go out for a fun Halloween evening with their friends Angela (Shazi Raja), Mallory (Schuyler Helford), Evan (Andrew Caldwell), and Nathan (Will Brittain). After meeting at a club for a few drinks, they leave in search of a haunted house to take part in. Finding one in seclusion where the people running it wear masks and never speak, they make their way through the haunt’s maze and wind up separated from each other. Soon they realize that this is more than your ordinary extreme haunted house and that the mask-adorned employees want to do more than just scare them.
What appears to be a standard slice of genre fare on the surface, Haunt surprisingly does a lot of things right. First and foremost, it focuses on character and atmosphere. We learn a lot about our lead, and her backstory prefigures heavily into the story’s outcome in a fairly natural way. We don’t learn much about the other characters aside from Nathan, but because the performances are so good and they feel genuine, it doesn’t matter. The film also takes its time visually, featuring lingering shots of memorable and colorful imagery, allowing us to soak in the environments that we’re being presented with. Even the tiniest of things are set up and paid off, rather than having a random assortment of scenes with no connective tissue like most low budget horror of this type.
That said, the pace of the film is sometimes a little clunky. As evidenced by the deleted scenes, the film’s earlier moments up to and before the arrival at the haunted house have been streamlined. As the filmmakers explain in the extras, it was meant to speed things up and get to the meat of the story faster. Because of this, character introductions are not always smooth, particularly for Evan who seems to be angry for not especially clear reasons, giving us the wrong impression of him right off the bat. We also don’t get much backstory on the killers themselves, which is not really a detriment as less can be more, but the story does leave you with a sense of wanting to know a little bit more. The cutting back and forth between characters in the haunted house isn’t all that seamless either, as the cuts never feel motivated or informed by each other. Thankfully, the film relies mostly on practical effects, but the odd CGI effect here or there does tend to stand out.
Even with minor flaws, Haunt has more going for it than most of its many counterparts. It’s not clever enough to put the idea of extreme haunts under a darkly comic microscope, but it has fun, creepy moments with characters that you actually care about to a degree and doesn’t rely solely on gore effects. It also features top notch prosthetic and make-up effects for its murderous trio.
Haunt comes to Blu-ray through Ronin Flix, offering a solid and highly-detailed presentation in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. It’s a crisp and colorful image with great depth and an assortment of nuanced environments. The rooms of the haunted house are separated mostly by colors, including red, white, yellow, and blue, while the costumes and outfits have a variety in their hues as well. Black levels are deep with excellent shadow detail, though the low light levels clash a bit with the detail seen in the neon blue room. Nothing ever appears pixellated or overblown, but the random CGI effects do make themselves known. Thankfully, there are few of them.
The audio is provided in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s not an overly aggressive mix as it focuses more on enveloping atmosphere than it does expansive and active sound effects. Everything is prioritized well for the most part. Dialogue is clear and precise, though runs up against the other elements during tense moments. The score is also mixed into the soundtrack well, adding another layer without overwhelming everything else.
The following extras are also included:
- Optional Introduction by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (HD – 1:13)
- Audio Commentary with Justin Beahm, Damian Maffei, Justin Marxen, and Chaney Morrow
- Audio Commentary with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods
- The Making of Haunt (HD – 32:33)
- Behind the Haunt (HD – 4:57)
- The Sound of Haunt (HD – 3:52)
- Deleted Scenes with Introductions by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (HD – 6 in all – 13:01)
- Popcorn Frights Q&A (HD – 21:37)
- Egyptian Premiere Q&A (HD – 25:30)
- The Sleepover Short Film with Introduction by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (HD and SD – 6:32)
- Director’s Diary (HD – 10:23)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:44)
The first audio commentary features actors Damian Maffei, Justin Marxen, and Chaney Morrow who play the three main serial killers. Filmmaker Justin Beahm sits in for a Q&A session with the group remotely from each other, discussing the making of the film and their feelings on how it turned out. The other is a more traditional audio commentary with writers and directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. They watch and discuss the film, talk about their influences, the actors, and the production itself. The Making of Haunt features all of the main cast, as well as the directors and other crew members, speaking about their experiences in retrospect. Behind the Haunt briefly speaks to the directors about creating the film. The Sound of Haunt features supervising sound editor Mac Smith who discusses the sound design. The Deleted Scenes offer a few extra moments that were excised, some of which were necessary cuts (including a long-winded speech from Nathan about his entire backstory), but others that perhaps could have been left in (Harper’s reluctance to go into the haunted house, as well as additional character development at the club). Also included is a humorous outtake. The Popcorn Frights Q&A features the directors and some of the cast while the Egyptian Premiere Q&A features the directors and Eli Roth, all on stage answering questions after screenings of the film. The Sleepover is a short film made by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods when they were kids, which also offers a few outtakes towards the end. Director’s Diary is a compilation of cell phone footage shot by the directors during the various stages of production.
Ronin Flix also offers a Collector’s Edition release, which features all of the same disc-based content, as well as an exclusive slipcover, the film's soundtrack on CD, four movie poster reproductions, a reproduction of the film’s haunt map, six enamel pins featuring costume masks from the film, and four replica VHS box-style magnets.
Whether it will become a perennial holiday favorite like other modern horror films—such as Tales of Halloween—remains to be seen. But Haunt is one worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre. And both Blu-ray releases by Ronin Flix are definite winners in every category.
- Tim Salmons