Written by: Lois Kennedy
Directed by: Mac Carter
Cast: Jacki Weaver, Liana Liberato, Harrison Gilbertson
The Asher family has just moved into a new house—the famous site of “the Morello curse.” The previous tenants all died except for the mother, Dr. Janet Morello, who has finally decided it’s a good idea to sell the house. In typical horror movie fashion, buying a cheap murder house is a bad idea. The place is swarming with angry Morellos, a crying baby ghost, and also a demon that even the ghosts are afraid of. The middle Asher child, eighteen-year-old Evan, falls hard for his neighbor Sam, who’d rather hang out in the murder house than at home with her abusive dad. A romance ensues, and Sam convinces Evan to try to communicate with the ghosts of the Morellos. Unfortunately, this act strengthens their hold on the world of the living, and making friends with them is not an option.
In many ways, Haunt is a typical haunted house movie with lots of familiar elements and clichés, like Sam’s ghost attack in the shower. Then there’s the box that allows the ghosts to speak, which is straight out of White Noise. Since it’s not the focal point of the movie it seems a bit out of place as well. However, the filmmakers utilize it for some pretty eerie moments. The voices are twisted and distorted, and while most of the time it’s not easy to understand what they’re saying (subtitles are mighty helpful for these scenes), the menace is clear.
Haunt is also quite predictable. The first time I watched it I guessed half of the twists, and the second time I kicked myself for not guessing all of them. But the predictability doesn’t lessen the creepiness. There’s a decent amount of intensity in certain scenes, for example the opening when Mr. Morello uses the ghost box thingy to talk to his kids—for the last time. The filmmakers don’t rely too much on “boo” scares, and the ones they use are effective. (Except the shower scene; everyone knows the shower means doom in a horror movie.)
Where Haunt really shines is the performances. Harrison Gilbertson is moving as the selfless but naïve Evan. Liana Liberato is compelling as Sam, who’s jaded yet vulnerable. Kasia Kowalczyk is properly scary as the demon. (And she’s actually a woman, going against the trend of men playing female villains like in Darkness Falls, Mama, and The Conjuring.) But my favorite is Jacki Weaver as Janet Morello. Having known her as the kindly aunt (and only sane person) in Stoker, I was riveted by her turn as a woman whose mild façade crumbles to dangerous instability. Her voiceover at the end of the movie is chilling. Even if I hated the movie (which I didn’t), her presence alone is enough to recommend it. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something familiar yet disturbing.