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  Haunt Ghoul next door
Year: 2013
Director: Mac Carter
Stars: Harrison Gilbertson, Liane Liberato, Jacki Weaver, Ione Skye, Brian Wimmer, Danielle Chuchran, Ella Harris, Carl Hardra, Sebastian Michael Barr, Brooke Kelly, Maggie Scott, Jan Broberg, Aline Andrade, Jarrod Phillips, Kasia Kowalczyk
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: After the Asher family, unwisely, move into a house where three children died mysteriously before their father committed suicide, sulky eldest son Evan (Harrison Gilbertson) happens across a pretty girl crying in the woods. Her name is Sam (Liane Liberato) and she is hiding from her abusive dad. Some time later Evan wakes up one night to find Sam in his bed. He lets her stay, partly because he is a nice guy happy to help a friend, partly because, well, he's a teenager and a pretty girl just turned up in his bed. Do the math. More surprisingly, Evan's mom (Say Anything (1989) star Ione Skye) and dad (Brian Wimmer) seem okay with a complete stranger hanging out at their house. Things take a turn for the supernatural however when Sam leads Evan to a secret machine stashed in the attic. A machine able to communicate with the spirit world. Intrigued by the opportunity to talk to the three deceased Morello children, Sam and Evan fool around with the machine. Out comes a creepy voice...

More and more often it seems like a dozen ghost-goes-bump-in-the-night horror films like Haunt pop up each year. They all sport the same sleeve art and employ the exact same jump-scare tactics as their better known bigger budgeted brethren: Paranormal Activity, Sinister, Insidious, to the point where rip-offs, spin-offs, reboots sequels and prequels are all but indistinguishable. Jaded older horror fans cackle at their clich├ęs, with good reason, but overlook such films appeal to millennials the way bad slasher movies entertained their parents or drive-in junk delighted their grandparents. Familiarity is part of the appeal even though quality seems secondary to an opportunity to just hang out watching a scary movie, gobble popcorn or throw some at the screen. The rules for this particular brand of ghost story are so rigid as is the demand from the core audience to adhere to them there is no room for maneuverability. Characters potter about cluelessly until the ghost eventually gets them. There are plenty of jump-scares but no surprises. That is Haunt in a nutshell.

Nevertheless writer Andrew Barrer cannily fine-tunes his script to the emotions of the teen viewer, tapping a certain morbid, semi-romantic fascination with death and the search for life beyond mundane mortal pain that is a recognizable facet of the teenage experience. If the tone is stiflingly solemn and the shock tactics deployed by director Mac Carter over-familiar and laughably over-used, the soapy back-story proves more intriguing than the supernatural goings-on. Barrer's plot comes close to crafting a solid allegory dealing with literal ghosts from one key character's past. Though it breaks no new ground the story involves on an emotional level. Aided by engaging young leads Harrison Gilbertson and Liana Liberato the story grows more interesting until, sadly, it eventually trips over itself leaving far too many silly, unanswered questions. Who invented the machine that talks to the spirit world? Is Evan's creepy kid sister (Ella Harris) possessed or simply watched The Amityville Horror (1979) once too often. More problematic, the resolution unintentionally (one presumes) implies children will invariably pay for the sins of their parents although the choice of victims does not make a lot of sense. Near the fade-out a character muses how "every ghost story might begin with a tragedy but they don't always end the same." Actually, judging from films like Haunt, they do.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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