Stars: Emily Roya O’Brien, Adrian Gaeta, Zack Ward, Sarah Ann Schultz, Anna Harr | Written by Zack Ward, James Cullen Bressack | Directed by Zack Ward
For actor Zack Ward, his very first appearance on screen turned out to be the one he will forever be remembered for. In 1983, a young Ward played the yellow-eyed bully Scut Farkus in Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story, and thanks in no small part to TBS’ annual all-day marathon of the holiday classic, Ward’s deliciously villainous performance in the film is one of the most iconic in screen history. Not bad for a first time actor, eh? Unfortunately, Ward’s directorial debut isn’t quite as memorable.
Co-written by Ward and prolific indie horror filmmaker James Cullen Bressack, The Haunted centers on Todd and Rebecca, a happy young couple who have just purchased their first house together. During the restoration process, Todd discovers a creepy teddy bear hidden in one of the walls, and the couple soon realizes that a little girl’s diary is stitched inside the bear. According to the diary, the girl went missing years prior, and strange activity in their home leads the duo on a quest to uncover what happened.
When watching horror films, few things impress me more than original ideas. At this point, there’s seemingly very little new ground for the genre to cover, so whenever a filmmaker manages to bring even the slightest bit of freshness to the table, I can’t help but applaud them. Horror is the best genre because there are endless possibilities and quite literally no rules, which is why it’s always frustrating when a movie like this one comes along and, well, plays by the rules that other films established.
Yes, The Haunted is another horror movie about a couple moving into a new home and discovering that it’s got a dark past and a troublesome present, and the scripting duo of Ward and Bressack stick so closely to expectation that there’s a good chance you’ll be able to map out the final act in your head long before they even get around to telegraphing it. Predictability and unoriginality aren’t sins on their own, as many horror films have excelled despite being both of those things, but coupled with dismally poor writing, this one is dead in the water before it ever has a chance to thrill or entertain.
Much of The Haunted focuses on interactions between Rebecca (Emily Roya O’Brien) and Todd (Adrian Gaeta), and the dialogue is so bad that even experienced actors – which O’Brien and Gaeta are not – would’ve had a hard time delivering it with any sense of realism. There’s nary a genuine character moment or interaction in the entire thing, and the dialogue is often so questionable that it’s downright cringe-inducing. It’s the sort of dialogue that makes you feel embarrassed for the actors tasked with trying to sell it, ensuring that even moments of seriousness are too silly to have any impact.
Not surprisingly, the only truly competent actor in this film is Zack Ward himself, whose decades of experience in front of the camera show through. Even he often struggles to make his own dialogue work, but he at least turns in a performance that’s head and shoulders above everyone else in the movie. As Todd and Rebecca’s friendly (but kind of creepy) neighbor, Ward is hands down the best thing about his directorial debut, which seems only right. The problem? He’s really the only good thing.
The mystery that lies at the center of The Haunted isn’t much of a mystery at all, as the aforementioned diary quickly spells the whole thing out for the characters – and for us as well, as its contents, read aloud by the writer, continually dump exposition on us and unexcitedly tell us literally the entire story. As for the final act reveal, it’s somehow both obvious and convoluted. The story ends up at a place that doesn’t make much sense or even mesh with what came prior, highlighting the film’s fatal flaw: the writing.
Zack Ward is a solid character actor, but I’m not yet sold on him being a filmmaker.
The Haunted is out now on DVD from 4Digital Media.