Haunt Writers and Directors Detail How They Honored Halloween and the Season's Darker Side

Filmmakers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck became major names in the horror community after last year's A Quiet Place landed in theaters. The film was directed by John Krasinski, who also offered some updates on the script, but with the film going on to be a major financial and critical success, horror fans immediately became interested in what the pair would come up with next. While many fans assumed the pair would happily get involved in the A Quiet Place sequel, Woods and Beck have instead been more motivated to pursue fresh ideas, which includes their latest film Haunt, a project they also directed.

On Halloween, a group of friends encounter an "extreme" haunted house that promises to feed on their darkest fears. The night turns deadly as they come to the horrifying realization that some monsters are real. Haunt stars Katie Stevens (Faking It, The Bold Type), Will Brittain (Kong: Skull Island, Everybody Wants Some!!), and Lauryn Alisa McClain (Descendants: Wicked World, Daddy’s Little Girls).

ComicBook.com recently caught up with the pair to discuss the film's inspiration, memories of Halloween, and what draws them to new projects over established universes.

haunt movie 2019
(Photo: Momentum Pictures)

ComicBook.com: One of the first thing that makes Haunt stand out is its setting of Carbondale, Illinois, a small town in the southern part of the state with a large college, though most people might not be familiar with it. How did you two decide to set the film there?

Scott Beck: Well, two answers to that. One, we felt like it was a slight homage to John Carpenter's Halloween, which is set in Haddonfield, Illinois. And the other is that Bryan and I, we've known each other since we were 11 years old. We grew up in the Midwest and in Iowa, about two-and-a-half hours west of the Chicago suburbs, and about two hours away from actual Carbondale. It just felt like a slice of our childhood. Just the way that the Halloween season permeates the Midwest, is what we were trying to capture, and it felt like the right place for a college campus.

It sounds like the holiday is close to the both of you, was it that love of the season that inspired you to make the film?

Bryan Woods: It was a few things. It was growing up in the Midwest and going to these haunted houses during the Halloween season. We used to go to a hundred houses together all the time, and just how fun it is to go into the middle of nowhere to some random factory, or abandoned church, or wherever they would put these up.

It was fun and scary, but it was also, the more you thought about it, you think, "Wow, we're really vulnerable going to these things," like we're signing our lives away to people who scare people for a hobby. We started thinking about what's the worst-case scenario of that.

And it was also just our love of horror. We wrote Haunt around the same time as A Quiet Place. And for us it was fun. We kept talking about, with A Quiet Place, we were trying to do something that felt almost elevated and prestigious and Spielbergian, and for all intents and purposes we were writing a "film," and with Haunt we wanted to write a "movie," something that was more of a thrill ride, more of a throwback to the '70s and '80s slashers.

It was almost a reaction against ourselves of how horror doesn't need to be "elevated" to be amazing. It's so beautiful and great the way it is, and just really leaning into all the iconography of the Halloween season and monsters, and it was a blast. It was a blast to write, and we felt like writing those simultaneously was exercising two different sides of our dark souls.

Did you do research into current haunted houses to try to find the right tone of conveying an experience that felt "safe" for the characters, only to gradually reveal that they weren't all that safe?

Woods: It was in part from our childhood, and when we started talking about the monsters, we had a lot of the villains, I guess you could say. We had a lot of conversations about that, and it was weird because we kept coming back with that, leaning a little bit away from horror and leaning more into crime. We talked about, especially with our monster makeup designers, we were like, "The inspiration shouldn't necessarily be like your 10 favorite horror films from the '80s or '90s, let's chase Heat. Let's chase what would an actual criminal, what would these people be doing and thinking."

There was a personal story that happened to a friend of ours who, I guess I won't get into the details, but he basically was wrapped up in this short film that this director was doing. It was a horror film that was about murder. It was some kind of creepy horror movie, but the filmmaker ended up actually murdering people. He ended up using people's trust and brought them into his circle in order to kill them. And it was such a horrifying story that reverberated throughout our community, and we used that as inspiration for this story as well.

Well that sounds absolutely terrifying.

Woods: Absolutely, no doubt. It was very real. But when we write and when we make a film, we're drawing on so many things. We're drawing on our love of cinema, or drawing on real-life stories. We're drawing on personal connections and we're always trying to find a thematic undercurrent or event to place the story in.

Our first priority for Haunt was making a fun thrill ride, a rollercoaster that feels like going into a haunted house, like trying to grab that joy and fun of going into a haunted house that we all feel during the Halloween season. And then underneath that, talking a lot about what is Halloween. Halloween is a time when people dress up. They play dress-up. They put on masks, they try to be somebody that they're not for a day, or a week, or a month out of the year.

And so, thematically, we thought it would be really interesting to tell the story about a young woman who's putting on a metaphorical mask. She's trying to be somebody that she's not. She's dealing with this abusive relationship and pretending like everything's okay. She's wearing this mask in her everyday life, and the movie pulls that out of her.

Do you have specific memories from your childhood and celebrating Halloween that have had a major impact on you?

Beck: To a certain degree, yes. I remember when I was in high school, there were a few, I wouldn't even call them friends, they were just acquaintances from a neighboring school that one of my buddies was close to. And that group of kids were like, "Oh, we've got this haunted house that we know about, but it's kind of a drive, and it's kind of in the middle of nowhere."

So I remember following them in my car for what felt like 30 minutes outside of the city where we grew up, and it's just getting darker, and there were cornfields everywhere. And I remember my car was also running really low on gas. So I felt like I was actually in a horror movie. And for the longest time on that drive, I'm thinking, "What if these people actually are insane and are taking me out here to murder me?"

Luckily it did not turn out that way. They turned off onto a dirt path and then there was this haunted house where you had to get onto a hayride in order to be taken to the actual abandoned farmhouse. But it was so down and dirty that everything that night just felt like there was actual danger around every corner, even though there really wasn't. It was just the circumstances of these haunted houses that would just crop up in the middle of nowhere that have permeated my imagination, fueled it in writing this film with Bryan.

Woods: When I think about my experiences with haunted houses being younger, actually the first memories that come to mind were building my own haunted houses in my friend's house. This is when we were kids, and we'd get cardboard boxes, or we'd get like little dishes and you'd put grapes in them or spaghetti. And you'd have people walk through your little makeshift haunted house and have them guess, is it eyeballs, is it brains, doing fun things like that.

Haunt, in many ways, was a fulfillment of a childhood dream to actually get to build our version of what we always wanted to see as a haunted house. The haunted house in Haunt is so different than what you might see when you go to Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights or something like that. Those haunted houses are often an assault on the senses, and there're crazy people constantly jumping out at you. And for us, building our dream haunted house is something that's far more low key, far more eerie. It should feel like it was thrown together overnight and the characters, the people who go through it, are not sure, why would it be thrown together overnight? Like why is this so low key, and weird, and not typical, and getting to build that. And not only that, we got to shoot this movie over the Halloween season. We were building our dream haunted house on Halloween. It just checked so many boxes off of our bucket list. It was really a blast.

A Quiet Place was this massive success and Krasinski not only directed it, but took a pass on your script, and he is set to write and direct the upcoming sequel, but were you guys at all involved in developing the trajectory of the new film?

Beck: As creators of essentially the movie and the franchise, we always have our hand in the mix. But what was really funny about opening weekend last year is, it was almost immediate that the studio announced there'd be a sequel. What our reaction was, and what John's reaction was, like, "I don't know if it needs a sequel."

We always envisioned it collectively as a standalone film, and very much like what Bryan and I were trying to mount on the wake of A Quiet Place is actually what we consider learning the right lesson, is that there actually is space for original ideas on a big theatrical level. So the decision that Bryan and I made was we'll be passively involved in it. And what was great was John ended up cracking an idea that he really loved and he took the ball and ran with it.

We're totally excited to support and champion that movie. But Bryan and I really wanted to lean into the idea of creating the next big original idea, which is what we're now working on. And we hopefully will be announcing it in the next couple of months, but just really trying something that's crazy and might be laughed at otherwise.

Woods: Which A Quiet Place was, by the way. Some people who heard the idea for it were like, "This will never work." And we're like, "But we believe in it."

Beck: We pitched that, just the logline to people, before the final script was done and we were met with dazed glances, and people with glazed-over eyeballs. And now in the wake of Quiet Place, we hope that we can thread an even crazier concept, and then hopefully find a home for that on a major studio level. We just want to take risks. That's really what we're looking at. When big offers come across, like franchises, that'd be exciting, but at the same time, we just need to follow our passion, and that's really with an original story.

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Haunt lands in theaters and On Demand this Friday, September 13th.