The horror thriller “Haunt” is set in an “extreme” haunted house — false advertising for a slasher movie that, like most haunted houses, veers between predictable and random while never becoming satisfyingly terrifying.
The movie’s protagonist, college student Harper (played by Katie Stevens, recently of “The Bold Type” and a 2010 “American Idol” finalist), already has enough horror in her life. The movie begins with her roommate Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain) catching Harper applying makeup to cover the latest black eye administered by Harper’s abusive boyfriend, Sam (Samuel Hunt).
As a distraction on Halloween, Harper accompanies Bailey and roomies Angela (Shari Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford) to a bar, where they meet nice-guy Nathan (Will Brittain) and obnoxious doofus Evan (Andrew Caldwell). When Evan flnds a flier for a haunted house way in the middle of nowhere, and the group decides to check it out.
At the haunted house, a silent figure in a clown mask has the students sign a rather extensive waiver, then stashes their cellphones in a lock box. Inside, they encounter the usual assortment of spring-loaded skeletons and spaghetti-for-brains tricks — but something seems just a little bit off. Then they see a simulated murder that maybe wasn’t so fake.
The writing-directing team of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods — who wrote the screenplay for “A Quiet Place” that director John Krasinsky rewrote — aim to inject some energy and fear into the trite conventions of haunted houses and knock-off-the-cast slasher flicks. They succeed sporadically, with set pieces likely to elicit genuine terror.
For far too much of the movie, “Haunt” drops the hammer — and other deadly implements — with little sense or internal logic. Too many of the onscreen deaths feel like wasted opportunities, too rushed or poorly conceived to generate the emotional response a smart horror movie should. All the screams are coming from the screen, and not enough from the audience.
Opened September 13 in select cities and digital on-demand; opens Friday, September 20, at Megaplex Gateway (Salt Lake City), Megaplex Valley Fair (West Valley City) and Megaplex Jordan Commons (Sandy). Rated R for horror violence/gore, and language throughout. Running time: 92 minutes.