haunt 2019: horror’s unhealthy obsession with the abuse of women (don’t worry this is actually a positive review)

Miss Harper said fuck masked lives

So admittedly, I’m not a huge, huge fan of haunted houses. I have a massive aversion to loud noises, and being in an enclosed space with people running, screaming, and swinging chainsaws at me only seems like a good time after beer number five.

The same goes for movies that take place in haunted houses; for such an easy set up for scares, I find them obnoxiously loud and extremely unscary. Haunt was fun, though, ‘cept for a few things I couldn’t help but nitpick at.

At it’s core; A couple friends go into what they presume to be a normal haunted house…eventually, they learn it is in fact not a normal haunted house. Our main character of the film, Harper, has a history of abuse. Our other main, Nathan, is a guy she meets at the pregame before the haunted house. No one else is that important.

Haunted house prank (gone wrong!!) (gone sexual???)

Normally, I sort-of like when horror lets the abused-at-the-hands-of-others female characters go completely apeshit and save the day by murdering the murderers; it makes the climax all the more satisfying.

But Haunt, in all it’s fun, made me realize how overdone this trope feels; more so, how over this trope I feel. It’s up there with “mental illness was the REAL horror” that’s done in every other fucking movie and drives me up the wall; like, is there no other way people (men) are able to flesh out and bring character to women other than making them victims?

Harper: the (wo)man, the myth, the legend

Harper grew up in terror, and likens her home life to a “haunted house” where the Spector is her abusive father. As a child, she witnessed him throwing her mother across the hallway like it was nothing, and during these fights, she would hide under the bed and wait until it was over. And maybe this is why Harper is so apt in navigating the haunted house when things get hairy; because her childhood prepared her to stay cool in the face of fear.

Regardless, in the present day Harper unwittingly facilitates the cycle of abuse and dates a man that gives her a black eye on Halloween; the movie begins with her putting concealer over the bruise. By the end, Harper’s got a fucking kill count going; she manages to trick one man into blowing half of his head off by a shotgun trap that he most likely helped to create, she stabs another guy in a mask (which turns out to be her roommate so oops! Even queens make mistakes), kills another guy who came out swinging a chainsaw in her face with her bare hands, presumably breaks someone else’s neck, and shoots another guy.

Like, a LOT of people die by the Hands of Harper.

Haunt-1

And again, it feels good to watch this woman, who previously suffered at the hands of shitty men tear her tormentors to pieces, but…I’m just a bit tired of it.

In making a monster

Harper’s abuse at the hands of her boyfriend, and previously, her father, feels a bit shoehorned in. I’m a firm believer that being a woman is suffering in it’s own right. Like, being a woman is horror itself; it is learning to survive in a world that has little love for you, and little value for your personhood. It’s too often for me that horror needs to showcase the brutal abuse of female characters, but I’m also a firm believer that you don’t need abuse a woman in order to prove her strength.

Haunt-Movie-Trailer-2019

I go to horror to get away from the mundane horror that is being a conscious human being, and watch people run from werewolves or fight zombies or become vampires or whatever; I go to it for the unreality, for the ridiculous fantasy aspect, and seeing abuse, a very real life horror that affects a whopping 1 in 4 women, is not something that I want to see done so constantly. especially in movies with like…alien spider clowns (cough cough). At the cost of seeing another woman go through trauma, fictional or not, it doesn’t really seem worth it anymore.

I appreciated this, though; at one point in the film, Harper’s insane ex-boyfriend is following her and her friends from the party to the haunted house. When things get intense and bodies start dropping like flies, Nathan, one of Harper’s new friends and potential love interest, sends her-ex their directions, and he turns back, presumably to collect Harper.

Now I thought this was going to turn into ‘bad, abusive ex-boyfriend saves the day and proves himself a good guy’, but he is presumably murdered by the masked men; when Harper and Nathan elude the killers, they hop into her ex’s truck and drive to safety. This is dumb sexy because not only does she not have to worry about her shitty abusive man anymore cause he’s dead as a doorstop, but this bad bitch also stole his car and booked it out of there with her new man that’s (hopefully) gonna treat her right.

We love a feminist icon.

Unmask! Unmask! Unmask!

There’s also a theme of “unmasking” in Haunt that I think would’ve been better if it was fleshed out a bit more. Harper “unmasks” by killing her tormentors; this is prefaced by a man in a devil’s mask asking her to “take off your mask” before she stabs him in the eye with a key. I really think that if they would’ve maybe implied that Harper’s “mask” is her facade of helplessness in the face of danger, feelings that came into fruition as a small girl unable to do anything against her father, and the unmasking was Harper finding the strength to defeat her captors and get out alive? I don’t know.

haunt-movie

But I really liked the mask aspect they had going on in this movie; it’s also revealed later down the line that the faces of the haunted house workers have warped to look like the faces of the masks they wear. Some of the characters still had human-like faces, maybe implying that they hadn’t killed enough or worn the mask long enough to become the monster? Don’t get me wrong, I love love love subtlety and my horror antagonists unquantifiable and vague, but I wish we got more of the haunted house murderers backstories before Harper murked them.

Anyway this is one of the better haunted house movies I’ve watched and it would be a fun film for you and your friends to get high and watch in the dorm thanks