I must say, it's really great to see Julie Benz take center stage as a strong female lead in a feature length film; and with Andrew C. Erin's Havenhurst landing squarely in the horror genre, it provides a potentially thrilling structure in which she can showcase her acting chops. Thankfully, while the setup for the film itself isn't anything too remarkable (recovering addict seeks refuge and healing in an exclusive accommodation, run by some very interesting very suspicious characters), it functions well enough as a vehicle to deliver some decent drama and surprisingly effective frights, most of those coming by way of what I feel, is the film's co-star in essence - Havenhurst itself.
The hotel-style complex sports an almost 20's style aesthetic; colors are drab, and the layout suspiciously structured to accommodate all kinds of secret rooms and hidden passages. The room interiors themselves are filled with a thick, and heavy, sense of dread; If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting Disney World's "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" attraction, then you understand completely the image I'm attempting to paint for you here. Havenhurst is a scary, unwelcoming place that on first sight screams, "YOU'RE GOING TO DIE HERE". Hardly the model location you'd expect to foster any kind of reform or recovery.
But eff that, this is a horror movie right?
And make no mistake, it can get pretty creepy at times. What with Julie Benz' character "Jackie" spending most of her stay, NOT staying still at all, but instead, taking it upon herself to unravel the mysteries behind not only the building's origins, but the reasons why so many of its guests have inexplicably vanished. It's here, in this discovery, that the film finds not only its storytelling and delivery crescendos, but also it's lowest points as a result of an unfocused plot line and unbalanced tone.
Speaking to the former, the story behind the building itself is an appropriately sinister one that serves the mood incredibly well, lending even further effectiveness to the rare moments of on-screen violence (hats off to the practical gore effects). Conversely, speaking to the points that drag the film down from its potential, are certain characters that either don't fit within the "reality" of the film or become a distraction. Following that, as a result, I often found myself frequently bouncing back and forth emotionally. From feeling scared to feeling dumbfounded, from spooked to awkwardly tickled, from hot to cold. Havenhurst far too often pulled me in directions that played against the spirit of the given scene, and the premise of the film itself, ultimately leaving me a tad bit disappointed, even if entertained.
Havenhurst has a great concept at its core; throw a bunch of ex junkies and recovering addicts into an eerie apartment complex that promises full recovery. And what's the catch? If you slip up, you get the ultimate punishment in tough love. It's sort of like the secret society from the 'Hostel' films took over the AA program. This set up makes for an interesting romp filled with a few gore soaked moments.
Julie Benz plays the lead, "Jackie". She is a recovering alcoholic who lost her daughter in an accident. When she arrives at Havenhurst for her second chance at life, she begins to investigate the disappearance of a prior tenant, one befriended by her in rehab. As curiosity gets the best of her, she begins to unfold the dark secrets of the facility. Benz brings depth to the character, and surprisingly plays a convincing addict. The supporting cast does a great job as well, especially the young, up-and-coming Belle Shouse, who's innocence is played well enough that every moment she's placed in danger, are almost always nail-biting. The film also gets brownie points for the cameo from scream queen Danielle Harris, her segment was definitely one of the strongest bits.
Havenhurst is a well produced and visually pleasing horror flick. Sadly however, despite having all the solid ingredients, in the end it just didn't gel with me. That's no knock against the film, I believe that there are a lot of horror fans out there who'll find Havenhurst to be a fairly satisfying affair; I'd certainly never discourage anyone, genre fans especially, from watching just because that happened to not be the case for me. So, if you want an interesting take on the haunted building shtick, go ahead and give the Havenhurst apartment building a visit.
The premise of the film sounds great and the first scene is intriguing. I have been a huge Julie Benz fan for years and she is the main reason that I wanted to see this film. I really did like the first half, it was building up to what seemed to be something good, but the ending unfortunately left me a bit disappointed with the exception being one scene towards the finale, involving Benz, that reminded me of one from Saw 2 - I really liked that part.
The film also made very good use of camera angles, especially in how that played conjointly with the timing of a couple particular elevator scenes. There's a even a very (well done) gory moment too, though I felt that particular scene was a bit too short. Also, I would have liked to learn more about some of the characters, perhaps even give a few of them bigger roles than they had, but overall, I do think that this is worth a watch; at the very least for Julie Benz, Danielle Harris and Jennifer Blanc-Biehn.
While the story isn't original, I don't think it's necessarily bad. It's just that this film tries to mix so many horror sub-genre elements it borders on being unfocused and ridiculous, sending you into what seems like a promising pit of terror for one moment, only take it away with the introduction of another, losing your attention entirely. When the peak of the film hits you, you'll think, "Hell yes this is awesome!" but then it leaves that awesome scene behind, usually do to the randomness and questionable acting that follows; it's very uneven.
While the always beautiful Julie Benz delivers a great performance and Fionnula Flanagan plays her creepy old house lady part pretty well, it's not enough to save the film for me. I wouldn't say this is the Havenworst, but it's pretty bad, redeeming factors again being the standout performances and, as Sarah mentioned, the awesome practical effects work.