Imitative, uninspired supernatural horror movies like "Haunt" only serve to shine a light on how adept such modern filmmakers as James Wan, Scott Derrickson and Ti West are with similar material. Director Mac Carter and screenwriter Andrew Barrer come uncomfortably close to plagiarism in their handling of ghostly happenings right down to the heightened, string-laden stinger at the end as the film's title fills the screen, a 'la
." Their story, of a family moving into a large, rickety house where all but one of the previous family members who lived there died under gruesome circumstances, is as derivative as they come. With most of the characters negligently developed and poorly integrated into the narrative (among them, Ione Skye and Brain Wimmer as parents Emily and Alan Asher, and Danielle Chuchran and Ella Harris as daughters Sara and Anita), that leaves 18-year-old son Evan (Harrison Gilbertson) and abused neighbor girl Sam (Liana Liberato) to carry the rotely hackneyed plot.
Sam, whose broken home and deceased mother drive her to want to find proof that there is a heaven, takes an active, some might say careless, role in contacting the spirits which lurk in Evan's house. This existential search is tossed aside, however, to make way for endless jump scares and false alarms that never once work. If anything, these tired tropes harm the film, stripping away the would-be effectiveness of the situation. The incorporation of an Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) box into the proceedings is additionally botched, never hitting the shivery mark of people genuinely contacting spirits from the beyond. Meanwhile, the malevolent loopiness occurring goes right over the heads of Evan's caring but clueless parents. It is such a shame when that happens.
"Haunt" kicks off with a promising opening scene where the grieving Franklin Morello (Carl Hadra) tries to talk to his dead children through EVP and keeps the good will going for approximately three more minutes as the Morello family's diseased fate unfolds through ultimate matriarchal survivor Janet's (Jacki Weaver) foreboding voiceover narration. Once the Ashers are introduced driving down remote back roads to meet a realtor about the home they are looking to buy, the viewer sits back, knowing exactly where things are going. If director Mac Carter was more attuned with building dread and tension and less concerned with lazily telegraphing every moment with an accompanying sound effect jolt and music cue, perhaps the picture's more timeworn elements could have been overlooked. Instead, it's a humdrum, even irritating slog that, safe to say, won't be giving anyone a sleepless night.