In a rambling, isolated house, Emily’s first night-shift as carer to an elderly dementia patient turns into a nightmare as she is tormented by a vengeful spirit and uncovers the house's dark secrets.
When screening and reviewing horror films, I find nothing more irksome, than when a film is able to make me jump (i.e., it has effective “boo” moments), but only does so because it pushes the correct (and cliché) buttons to garner such a reaction. Practically any filmmaker can produce such an effect. Capture something jumping out at a character and then add a jarring musical stinger in post. Done.
But when a director fails to earn such an audience reaction – that is when I take issue.
The Haunted is a new supernatural thriller (written and directed by David Holroyd) out of the UK. It held its World Premiere at this year’s 18th Annual Screamfest in Los Angeles.
Emily (Sophie Stevens) is struggling financially, so she reluctantly takes a care-giver job at a sprawling, rural home. She’s to watch after a man named Arthur (Nick Bayly), who is dealing with early onset dementia. When Emily is left alone for the night shift – she takes to exploring the many nooks and crannies of the creaky old house. In between checking on her ward and checking out the home, she starts to see fleeting, strange figures and hears what must be some sort of presence lurking about in the house.
I can’t spell out the film’s biggest problem, as it will be a giant spoiler. Let’s just say that the entire conceit of the film – and its final, big reveal – has been done before, perhaps in a supernatural thriller from the last 20 years. And it’s been done better.
Early on, the promising potential for connection between Emily and Arthur (Emily estranged from her father and Arthur estranged from his daughter), is never consummated via the story, and therefore somewhat wasted. Admittedly, Arthur is asleep for most of the film, but the introduction (an interesting possibility) of their like-minded situations, could have done a great deal to drum up some sorely-missing audience sympathy.
As it is, we know only the basics – despite his illness, Arthur’s daughter is out of the picture and Emily attempts to dial her “Dad” on her cell-phone at one point, but thinks better of it and hangs up. There was more to explore here, and the film didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.
And rather than be pummeled by on-line trolls, yes – I get that with the film’s final revelation, this gripe holds less water… but I feel like it could have gone in a more interesting direction – gaining audience love for the characters should take priority over making your big twist – the film’s central focus.
I was in love with the film’s location. The house is something of a maze (it’s a real place) and so each time Emily makes another move to investigate a strange noise or to check on Arthur – it was kind of fun to start to know where each step would take her. There was something fascinating about her journey through the house, knowing what she encountered where and where each new distraction might be coming from – and its proximity with the already familiar areas.
Although I liked moving through the home, I wasn’t a fan of the camerawork. It’s herky-jerky and repetitive – sometimes bordering on a “first person”, “found footage” aesthetic. And one particular chase sequence was quite confusing, with Emily ending up in an attic staircase – but I couldn’t remember seeing her arrive to that location.
Based on the film’s final reveal, I naturally had a few questions about the film’s opening sequence, as Emily travels via car to the rural home. Doesn’t quite add up, nor was there any attempt to even casually explain away this gaping plot-hole. Note to all filmmakers – make up the rules for your fantasy world, and then stick to them.
I enjoyed the lead performance from Stevens, but the role doesn’t require much from her. She’s believable as she checks things out around the house, gasps and runs from the spectres inhabiting the home, but with little to no history for Emily – Stevens is left to flail about with not much to hold onto. As mentioned above, there’s simply no sympathy for this character, and as fun as it was to hop about in this labyrinthine home – I was never truly worried for Emily’s safety. If we don’t care about basically the one and only person whom we could possibly attach ourselves to – then that’s a massive shortcoming.
And now we’ve come to the core of my beef over this picture. The film was scary. I jumped. I jumped a lot. Yes, filmmakers, you got me. But I never once felt as though you earned those scares. They worked because you have a basic understanding of how to make your audience react.
But as I’ve said in countless other film reviews – of pictures with this same issue – I didn’t react because I was terrified for your characters, and hopeful that they’d overcome these dangers. No. I jumped in my seat because you did the bare basics when setting up your scares. All this does is illustrate just how shallow your “boo” moments are. With nothing of substance to back them up, they’re as thin as your underwritten main character.
You did not earn those audience reactions. That’s simply something I can’t let slide.
With a decent lead performance, but a wholly uninspired concept and the matching “you didn’t earn it” scares, The Haunted fails to make a good impression.
So a 2.5-star rating it is.
As this Screamfest screening was the film’s premiere, I can assume that it will continue working its way through the festival circuit. No wider release information is yet available.