With the success of the "Insidious" and "Paranormal Activity" movies and last year's "The Conjuring," the bubble hasn't burst quite yet in the horror housing market. But it doesn't necessarily make things easier for a more low-key, more sluggish offering like "Haunt."
In this feature debut from director Mac Carter and screenwriter Andrew Barrer, the Ashers, a family of five, move into a forbidding country manse that notoriously didn't let most of its last inhabitants out alive, save a ghoulish-voiced, hollow-eyed matriarch played by Jacki Weaver.
It's all cheery optimism for the new tenants, though, until glum teenager Evan (Harrison Gilbertson) befriends flirty, rebellious neighbor girl Sam (Liana Liberato), and the pair embark on some not-so-harmless spirit raising.
Though "Haunt" ostensibly has all the necessary elements for a solid case of the dreads — visual sophistication, physical atmosphere and a secret-filled yarn — none of them coalesce when needed. Too often, Carter sacrifices characterization for one more flickery effect or carefully composed shot of moody elegance, then overdoes unlighted interiors to an almost absurd degree.
By the time the final act unleashes its revelations and peril, "Haunt" has felt more like an exercise in formal spookiness than a full-blooded story of lingering malevolence.
"Haunt." Rated R for violence, disturbing images and brief drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. At Arena Cinema, Hollywood.