Considerably more sophisticated than most fare centered on a group of people being hunted by perverse forces, “Haunt,” from filmmaking duo Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, resists the urge to rely solely on facile gore and jump scares, and instead dwells on the psychological terror that overtakes fun-seeking college students when a harmless diversion turns diabolical.
Placed inside what’s described as an extreme haunted house in small town Illinois (part fair attraction, part modern escape room), horror hides in plain sight disguised as part of what visitors/victims could interpret as a very realistic spectacle. Out with friends on Halloween night, Harper (Katie Stevens), a broken home survivor in an abusive relationship, meets gallant baseball player Nathan (Will Brittain), and enters the secluded fright establishment once everyone has given up their cell phones to its macabre clown of a doorman.
Intelligently imagined within the tropes they’ve chosen to engage with, Beck and Woods fidget with expectations and plant inconspicuous elements with twisty payoffs. Contraptions toy with the youths’ thrill-thirsty minds until the line dividing low-grade sideshows from tangible nightmare is completely blurred, to their dismay. Stellar production design and prosthetics add to the genuinely acted mayhem.
While it doesn’t deconstruct the formula, “Haunt” does take advantage of our collective willingness to relinquish control and information in environments we perceive as risk-free. Convincingly creepy while also slightly thought-provoking, it warns about deceiving facades, because what hides underneath masks is possibly much worse.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 13, Arena Cinelounge Hollywood; also on VOD