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Haunt | Review

Haunt Me Tender: Carter’s Debut Reduced to Derivative Schlock

Mac Carter Haunt PosterAs Mac Carter’s directorial debut, Haunt, quickly unfurls a haul of standard haunted house clichés, don’t be surprised if you’re put in mind of a couple James Wan features. In fact, there’s not much by way of originality to be experienced as far as its narrative is concerned, a film that chugs along until it finally arrives at a revelation that feels as predictable as it is unenthusiastically rendered. In fact, the film’s opening narration attempts to address this issue, and does actually temper what it’s lacking in chills with considerable effort in providing us with a pair of protagonists that elevates the material. Despite Carter and screenwriter Andrew Barrer’s efforts, an overabundance in supernatural flourishes in the second half severely detracts from any mounting dread inspired by its fitting design, which cheapens the film into another genre throwaway rather than what may have been a more subtle and evasive exercise.

A man communicating with his dead children via a complicated apparatus dies violently and the omniscient narration of Janet Morello (Jacki Weaver) pipes up to explain that her husband and three children met tragic ends, leading locals to refer to their demise as the Morello curse. The house they once lived in has sat empty until now, when the Ashers (Ione Skye & Brain Wimmer) move their three children into it. Their oldest son Ethan (Harrison Gilbertson) has recently turned 18 and seems rather dejected. On a walk he runs into a crying girl, Sam (Liana Liberato), who seems to be the victim of abuse at the hands of her violent father. While initially an awkward meeting, Sam warms up to Ethan, and she’s soon sneaking into his room at night, but not for the kind of canoodling you’d expect. As Ethan’s sisters secretly experience strange phenomena with a presence in the house, Ethan and Sam discover Mr. Morello’s communicating device, and soon let something through that’s angry and seeking vengeance.

While the genuinely unnerving Jacki Weaver’s opening narration seems fun in its own hokey little way, this reads as more of a preface, asking for us to understand that there are some unavoidable tropes in the genre, and all ghost stories begin with a house. Sure thing, but that final moment, where the menacing title roars onto the screen certainly feels like a not so subtle steal from Insidious. And then there’s the ridiculous definition we receive at the title sequence, where ‘haunt’ is a place where animals go for food.

What seems like a mish mash of ideas perhaps derives from the fact that Carter and Barrer do have something of interest to develop but couldn’t or wouldn’t divorce themselves from the genre trappings of oogy spirits that, for unexplained reasons, get more violent after Sam and Evan begin communicating with them and then exact questionable vengeance on one particular character. Harrison Gilbertson and Liana Liberato are likeable enough in their concerted efforts, with Liberato once again giving a rather earnest performance in material that sometimes feels unworthy. Weaver’s presence should lend definite interest to the material, and she’s creepy kooky in flashback sequences as a fright-wigged pediatrician.

Parental figures plays by Ione Skye (remember her?) and Brain Wimmer (yes, not Brian) seem either purposefully underwritten or simply anesthetized. Though, one of the film’s creepiest touches are the out-of-focus moments where Liberato’s abusive dad makes an (sort of) appearance. Like many genre efforts, Haunt loses an incredible amount of steam when it gives visual shape to its supernatural elements, something that takes the wind out of the terror sails of even the much more superior Sinister as well.

★ 1/2 / ☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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