Ghost Story: Boringly Titled Haunted House Thriller Offers Boring Thrills

'Haunt' is a disappointment despite a star turn by Jacki Weaver

Haunt is as stupid as it looks.

Haunt is as stupid as it looks.

I was in the mood for a good haunted house thriller when I went to see Haunt. I should have rerun a DVD of The Uninvited. I’ve had bigger scares from the windows at FAO Schwarz.


Haunt ★
(1/4 stars)

Written by: Andrew Barrer
Directed by:
Mac Carter
Starring: Jacki Weaver, Liana Liberato and Harrison Gilbertson
Running time: 86 min.


 

Haunt, like most ghost stories, begins with a house and a tragedy—a mourning father with tears rolling down his cheeks, driven to madness by the death of three children, tries to reach them on an electrical device he has invented that looks like one of those boxes grinning doctors in Gothic insane asylums dragged out to torture their patients with electroshock treatments. Just when the sound of their voices breaks through, the man suffers a stroke and falls down a flight of stairs to his death. From here, his ghost has nowhere to go but up, and neither does the movie.

The Asher family moves in: a dentist, his pediatrician wife and three kids—horny, 18-year-old son Evan, youngest daughter Anita, and their older college-age sister, Sara. One by one, the children meet horrible visions from the pages of Tales from the Crypt, in what local people call “the Morello curse.” Something bad happened to the Morello family. The film is very slow to reveal just what that was, but things look creepy from the start. Before the moving van even unloads the furniture, a previous tenant (comedienne Jacki Weaver, tackling a dramatic change of pace) shows up to retrieve a portrait of her son, who was also 18 when he died, in the same room Evan now occupies. Lights flicker, a baby cries, black ink pours into the bathtub, and the fuse box in the cellar breaks down, plunging the house into darkness. And, of course, they all start hearing voices and seeing things. Dad warns not to let community superstitions color their perception of the facts. Poor fool. He hasn’t seen many B-movie horror flicks.

Neither, obviously, has Evan, who finds a girl named Sam crying in the woods. When he invites her home to share his bed, her entrance changes their lives unexpectedly. It seems a girl once had an illegitimate baby with the owner of that house and his outraged wife sought revenge with a meat cleaver—all droolingly restaged in blood-spurting flashbacks. If you don’t know the baby that survived the massacre is now the bereft Sam, then you haven’t been watching late-night reruns of the old Thriller episodes with Boris Karloff. Revealing more would border on betrayal, but don’t worry.  You will figure it out long before the third reel.

It’s fun to watch Jacki Weaver lose it, but after her accomplished sense of comedy as the loopy mother in Silver Linings Playbook, it’s hard to stifle a laugh when she starts rolling her eyes. You won’t laugh at the rest of the movie. It’s too boring. Maniacal creatures pop out of the walls and floorboards like stuffed monsters in the rides at Disney World. Harrison Gilbertson does well with the role of Evan, considering the fact that after opening up the old voice box from the first scene, he’s trapped with a line like “What just happened is one of two things: One, a ghost, a literal ghost, just talked with us, or two, our subconscious wanted it to happen so badly that we manifested it with some hidden, messed-up part of ourselves.” What 18-year-old boy would even dream up a line like that, much less actually say it? This howler, lamely directed by Mac Carter and woefully written by Andrew Barrer, was shot in Utah, but it’s so generic looking the setting might as well be somebody’s backyard in Hoboken.

You expect something called Haunt to produce a few chills. This one has all the chills of a Baptist church Halloween social.