Having a creative team that met in kindergarten was always going to make Haunted an intriguing proposition. The dynamic of these two close friends working together in Downey (directing, writing) and Elliot (writing, acting) had been developing for years through the process of making shorts throughout their teenage years, so in the post-college days of opportunity a full length feature seemed the natural progression. With Downey listing his influences as somewhat leftfield fare as Pumpkinhead (Stan Winston, 1988) and Fire in the Sky (Robert Lieberman, 1993), not to mention the casting of genre icon Lance Henriksen, Haunted certainly arrived through my mailbox oozing with potential.
October (Elliot) has a photographic memory. As he hitchhikes his way back home, the majority of his attention is given to a hefty tome on medicine which he fans through absorbing the content of each page in seconds. Waiting for him at home is his father Russell, the local sheriff (Henriksen). From the outset it’s obvious they have a densely complicated relationship, compounded further when the first issue they have to handle is the injured family dog which Russell unceremoniously shoots dead despite October’s valiant attempts to save it.
It’s been a number of years since father and son have spent time together, and the purpose of this weekend is to head out into the wilderness and do some hunting which will hopefully repair some old wounds. Things begin well with a solid bonding session over Russell teaching October to drive his stick shift, but once the boys enter the barren wilderness an accident leaves Russell incapacitated. With no supplies and his father unable to move, October must summon the belief to get them out of this situation. Plagued by flashbacks and hallucinations of a past trauma though, he will need to reach into the depths of his consciousness to overcome the demons that haunt him.
Part survivalist horror – part psychological drama – part dense character study – part creature feature, Haunted has many ambitious strings to its bow. For some insane reason Scooter Downey and Sean Elliot decided to forego the conventions of a by-the-numbers genre piece for their debut film, instead opting for a multi-layered conundrum of genres. It’s a gamble that could have easily failed spectacularly, but in the main their feature turns out to be an enthusiastic success.
With two narratives running concurrently, one being the contemporary hunting trip based scenario and the other providing flashbacks of why the relationship is so damaged, the films frequent change of tone keeps the viewer engaged throughout and eager to learn more about these characters. Newcomer Elliot is outstanding as October, and finally Lance Henriksen gets a role which is worthy of the man’s talent. The complexities of this father-son relationship is portrayed effectively between the two actors as such a dynamic is central to the film’s success. Downey directs effectively and makes great use of the exterior Texas location, but it’s his script with Elliot that’s the real success and provides us with a movie that displays a virtuosity and dexterity that few of its peers can equal.