Tag Archives: C

HAUNT

Producer: Todd Garner, Mark Fasano, Vishal Rungta, Ankur Rungta and Eli Roth
Director:  Scott Beck and Bryan Woods
Writer:  Scott Beck and Bryan Woods
Stars: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford and Samuel Hunt
Studio: Momentum Pictures

C

It’s very much back to basics with “Haunt,” about six students from Southern Illinois University who make the mistake of accepting an invitation to enter an isolated haunted house at Halloween. They are immediately threatened by a gang of mask-wearing fiends armed with all kinds of murderous tools, who have rigged the place with an amazing assortment of complicated traps. You would think that college kids would have seen enough horror movies to know that going into such an establishment is a terrible idea, but if they were smart, there would be no movie—or maybe they’d be in Cambridge rather than Carbondale.

As generic as the premise is, however, writer-directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who co-wrote “A Quiet Place” with John Krasinski, show an aptitude for adding some pizzazz to an old routine. Their dialogue is more authentic-sounding than what you’ll usually find in such fare, and their direction more stylish, aided by a production design (by Austin Gorg) that’s colorful and glitzy, as well as sleek cinematography (by Ryan Samul) and crisp editing (by Terel Gibson). Of the behind-the-scenes contributions, only the score by Tomandandy seems rote.

Beck and Woods have also been astute in their choice and direction of their youngish cast. Katie Stevens almost makes you believe in Harper, the destined last girl standing, who’s portrayed as putting up with her abusive boyfriend Sam (Samuel Hunt) because of, according to the dime-store psychology suggested in flashbacks, his unhappy childhood (flashbacks are provided to explain). Her roommate Bailey (Lauryn McClain) convinces her to go out to a Halloween party without him, and it’s there that they—accompanied by pals Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford) meet nice-guy baseball dude Nathan (Will Brittain) and his chubby, borderline obnoxious buddy Evan (Andrew Caldwell).

Before long, they’ve all repaired top Evan’s van. Following a rural road, they find the isolated haunted house and, after surrendering their cellphones, enter the creepy establishment. The initial exhibits are tame enough, but one involving a shrieking girl being tortured with a jot poker shakes them up badly, and they soon find themselves being separated into small groups and facing a series of perils orchestrated by a cast of miscreants costumed as clowns, zombies, witches, devils, ghosts and chainsaw-wielding versions of Leatherface. Needless to say, they’re interested in inflicting not just scares but physical damage.

If you’ve ever seen a horror movie before, you pretty much know the drill here. But Beck and Woods arrange some pretty good set pieces and choreograph them well—including the obligatory death scenes. The acting, too, is better than average, with Brittain likable as the guy who effectively becomes Harper’s protector. The other prospective victims are fine as well, though Caldwell’s Evan is inevitably rather irritating.

If there’s a problem here, it involves the motives of the villains, who have apparently constructed their extraordinarily elaborate trap for just these few random kids, and then prove to be remarkably inept in putting their Rube Goldberg contraptions into operation. (Even the twist at the close shows the grand master’s a klutz.) Worse, in order to provide an extra corpse the script resorts to the sudden appearance of an extra victim—in this case the jealous Sam, who’s tracked Harper down via her phone, only to prove a much easier target than any of the more likable characters. It’s becoming a hoary cliché.

What we’re left with is an old-fashioned Halloween haunted-house slasher movie, better made and more imaginative than most but not enough to make it really distinctive.

LOW TIDE

Producer: Richard Peete, Brendan McHugh, Kevin Rowe, Rian Cahill and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
Director: Kevin McMullin
Writer: Kevin McMullin
Stars: Jaeden Martell, Keean Johnson, Daniel Zolghadri, Alex Neustaedter, Shea Whigham, Kristine Froseth, Mike Hodge and Danny Bolero
Studio: A24 Films

C

A quartet of Jersey Shore guys get into serious trouble during the 1980s in Kevin McMullin’s “Low Tide,” a slow-burning thriller that features a talented young cast but isn’t clever or thoughtful enough to surmount a fundamentally pedestrian coming-of-age plot.

The focus of the first act is on the three older teens, who are breaking into houses occupied by outsiders who come to the shore for vacations. Alan (Keean Johnson, the romantic interest Hugo in “Alita: Battle Angel”) is the straightest arrow in the bunch, persuaded into participating by Red (Alex Neustaedter, the good-guy dirtbiker of “A.X.L.,” the robot dog movie), the privileged bad-boy. Accompanying them is Smitty (Daniel Zolghadri), the scruffy kid from a poor household who’s in it for the cash and camaraderie.

When Smitty breaks his foot leaping from the second story of a house to escape when the owners get back, Red insists that Alan recruit his brainy, goody-two-shoes brother Peter (Jaeden Martell, the boy whose loss of his little brother is the catalyst of the new version of “It”) as a substitute. Peter is reluctant, but becomes part of the crew to please his brother.

In a rare break from their usual rule about not robbing locals, the guys decide to break into the now-empty place left behind by a reclusive sea captain, and Alan and Peter discover, hidden away under some floorboards, a bag of real loot—gold coins that the local pawnbroker (Mike Hodge, the late actor to whom the film has been dedicated) values at a thousand dollars apiece. The brothers are in no mood to share the find, and instead bury the bag in a nearby forest. But all is not well, because a local cop (Shea Wigham) connects hobbling Smitty to the recent string of robberies and puts pressure on the terrified kid to rat out his comrades.

Alan gets into trouble, too—not just by spending lavishly on a used car despite Peter’s warnings that any such conduct would spark suspicion from Red and Smitty, but because his incipient romance with Mary (Kristine Froseth, recently seen in “Prey”) leads a suspicious Red to demand that all the gang participate in “one last job”—which turns out, of course, to be of her house. That results not only in their breakup, but Alan getting busted by the cops as well.

The outcome of everything, naturally enough, is the complete unraveling of any trust among the guys, all of whom end up scrambling to save themselves and trying to profit from what they’ve done. Adam and Peter, of course, will be the special targets of Red’s ire, in a penultimate sequence that explains the picture’s title and an ending that exudes moral ambiguity.

The young actors give convincing enough performances, and though McMullin’s direction can tend toward the sluggish, he and editor Ed Yonaitis manage to keep the shifting emotions clear. The locations are decently used by cinematographer Andrew Ellmaker, and Chris Potter’s production design is workmanlike.

And yet in the end “Low Tide” has a familiar, rather tired feel–a throwback to the “kiddie noir” pictures that members of the so-called “brat pack” made back in the day. It might be thought of as a companion piece to “Hot Summer Nights,” the early Timothée Chalamet movie that A24 unearthed last year, in which he played a kid caught up in a drug-distribution ring on the Jersey Shore. It too was a downbeat coming-of-age tale (also a period one, set in the 1991), and it too wasn’t particularly good. As for this low-energy piece, one can safely let it ebb away unseen.