Saturday, 3 November 2018



Horror - indeed, cinema in general - tends to go in cycles. Sometimes erotic thrillers are the main attraction, five years later everyone's making werewolf movies, and five years after that you can't move for shoddy CGI shark films or naturist Westerns. Superhero knockabouts have been the major studios' big thing for quite a while now, but sooner or later we'll get bored of them and they'll have to do something else. On a vastly smaller scale, there also appears to be a run on haunted house movies: the streaming services are heaving with mysterious noises from the attic or the cellar and creepy apparitions looming out of the darkness seeking resolution for past crimes.

It's not entirely surprising: Boo! scares are easy and cheap, and for the most part these only require one or two locations and a small cast. Here are two recent examples of spooky cattle-prod horrors in which Bad Stuff happened in the house a while back and supernatural forces are now at work: one's kind of okay, one's bloody awful, and both are stuck with the most generic possible title for such a film (and in neither of them do the main characters do the sensible thing and get the hell out of the haunted house). The Norwegian Haunted, from 2017, has a woman driving off into the frozen winter to clean out her late father's holiday home for a quick sale. But there's a mysterious young child hanging around, the never-mentioned aunt who disappeared years ago when just a child, the strange and forgotten death of her mother...

If this had been made in the days before M Night Shyamalan and his honking great trademark plot twists, you might be forgiven for not figuring what the strange little girl really is (I got it half-right). It's pleasantly creepy in the right places, and the snowbound setting is quite beautiful to look at, but it's all very ho-hum, we've seen it all before and it doesn't do anything particularly exciting with it. Fair enough: it's not really trying to rewrite the haunted house subgenre: it's working in fairly familiar territory and doing its fairly familiar thing solidly enough to pass the 80 minutes or so fairly painlessly.

It's doing its thing considerably better than the Italian film of the same name from the previous year, however. Here a charmless screenwriter wrestling with a horror script housesits for his sister and nephew but finds a variety of increasingly sinister and scary demons hiding upstairs, looming out of the dark, banging on the door and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Can he, his idiot best friend and the world's most underwhelming exorcist banish these evil presences?

Shot in English with heavy accents, much of 2016's Haunted consists of Roberto D'Antona (younger brother of writer-director Eros) wandering endlessly around the house and being freaked out by spooky noises off, spooky faces leering out of his computer screen, spooky drawings and spooky apparitions appearing out of nowhere. Again, it shouts Boo! in your ear efficiently enough, jabbing you with the sharpened scare stick every few minutes, but it's really not enough: the two leads are playing everything too comedically (and clearly in the wrong language, which affects the performances), and the exorcist who turns up in the third act is an absolute nothing. It's not even nicely shot: at least if they'd made it as a found footage film the drab visual aesthetic would have been appropriate. And the online artwork of creepy dolls has absolutely nothing to do with the film; a picture of Tom Cruise clinging to a plummeting helicopter would have been about as relevant.


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