Without question, haunted habitations are my favorite sub-genre in horror, making me all the more excited to watch and review David Holroyd’s The Haunted...
...Ghost stories just generally get my brain far more engaged than, say, a maniac killing people in the woods or an anecdote about a monster. I believe the best madness isn’t some cosmic thing, it’s the feelings that are hiding under dust, or worse, are able to be seen in plain sight. From the literary world to celluloid, we have been given a plethora of different haunted house narratives. Some exceptional - The Shining, The Innocents - and others building up tension that gets deflated by a weak or nonsensical third act (I’m looking at you, The Turning). The challenge is that these stories need to cinematically keep an audience engaged in ways that other horror films don’t have to worry about. The Haunted does a good enough job staying the course, and when it succeeds it relishes in the company of the greats of years past. Though it doesn’t always stick its landing, there is still a lot to love about this small budgeted film where the scares are actually scary, and the premise isn’t just a retread of similar features.
The Haunted tells the tale of a new caretaker, Emily (Sophie Stephens), who is tasked with watching over a man in a coma-like state named Arthur (Nick Bayly). The eerie vibe of the film is set from the opening, as a member of the estate gives Emily a tour of Arthur's home. Unlike the usual impressive, well organized mansion, this house is in a disconcerting state of disarray, conjuring an immediate sense of foreboding. It’s at that moment that the audience is transported into the head of the main character, experiencing her apprehension as she realizes this is not a normal work environment and something is off. We share her anxiety as a presence continues to show up and the secrets of the man she is in charge of are revealed.
The run time of the film is 75 minutes, and so it goes by at a clip, and there isn’t a ton of information given to the viewer about Emily, or Arthur. The acting lies almost entirely on the shoulders of Sophie Stephens who, aside from the first five minutes, is the only character in the film that does not spend most of their time asleep or mumbling. So Stephen’s has to draw the audience in and she does; even though from start to finish you know nothing more about Emily than the fact that she is in so dire need of money that she took this isolated job. I’m always impressed when characters are given such thin details, that an actor such as Stephens can pull out emotions and make the audience invested in her well-being. This engaging performance is the only thing making certain scenes work, such as one where she discovers a bunch of occult paraphernalia, that would otherwise be a bit left field. The credit for the film’s successes goes to the great heights of her performance and believability as Emily. Not the script, not the direction, but Sophie Stephens. The lack of development in the script itself works against the feature film and the eventual reveal. Still, from a filmmaking standpoint, The Haunted does a lot right and uses many conventional storytelling tricks that help heighten the scare factor/vibe the film is going for.
Additionally, I am a sucker for a great score and great sound design and The Haunted has both. When a door that creaks open out of nowhere is heard with such intention that you feel as if you are in the house with Emily, it is masterclass cinema. The score by Oliver Patrice Weder and Homay Schmiz is one of the best I’ve personally heard in a long, long time, and hopefully people will take notice and the world will be hearing more of their work. It is perfectly married to the sound design and creates unease and tension that might not be felt if it weren’t for their contribution to the film.
Sadly, the weaknesses in The Haunted do outweigh the strengths which is a bummer, since as aforementioned, when the film hits its mark, it soars. It is too short and too full of tired tropes and the ending “twist” can be seen from a mile away. Still, there is enough to make you come back and it’s far from the worst ghost story out there. If you are like me and relish in this genre, there is definitely something for you here and some of the better moments will make you pause and see how great a film this could have been. I just wish more time went into character definition and it did not rely on a myriad of material that has already been used in better books and films.
On a personal note, I will always advocate for this type of independent horror. These are insane times and it doesn’t look like life will be back to normal for a while, so rent a film that could use the numbers. I know some of the above may make you feel like this isn’t a film worth seeing, but far from it. As a reviewer, I will admit when certain aspects could have been better, but do I believe this is a film worth watching in the comfort of your home with your lights off? Yes. Will it spook you? Most likely. As horror fans, we have an incredible chance to bolster upcoming artists who can move our genre forward, and the best way to do that is to support the type of films that Killer Horror Critic is given the honor to review. There has never been a better opportunity to stay at home and get scared and help a community of horror fanatics like ourselves that are creating independent films. Stay safe everyone, and as George Romero would say…“Stay Scared.”
Get scared by The Haunted when the film releases on VOD May 22nd from Vertical Entertainment.
By Justin Drabek
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