With a cool urban flair, solid comedy, and plenty of jump scares, “Haunted Trail” is a well-paced film that is as fun as it is scary.
Directed by Robin Givens (yes, that Robin Givens), Haunted Trail (2021) may take a lot of cues from the standard slasher playbook. But it also brings a lot to the table, including strong acting, a hip-hop soundtrack, and above-average production values.
Now, right from the jump, we get a pretty stereotypical killer, who I can really only describe as very Michael Myers-esque — complete with a white mask and coveralls, chasing a pretty young girl through the woods with a knife.
It’s clear early on that originality is not going to be this movie’s strong suit. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deliver in other ways.
The cinematography is excellent, there’s a top-notch score, and the opening credits are slick.
This is followed by an introduction to our main cast, a mostly African American group of attractive, high-spirited young friends who are about to get together for an evening at Haunted Trail, a locally-owned haunt.
This setting translates very well onto the screen with its well-constructed sets and enthusiastic cast of employees.
The group of nine gets in early thanks to the owner’s son being friends with one of them. Two of the guys lag behind to finish smoking a joint in the parking lot. The rest press on without them, chased by the employees and interacting with the various attractions in what I found myself hoping is a real place that people can visit, as the quality is definitely what you would hope to find at a first-class haunt.
The friends are having a great time till one of the haunters, the same killer from the opening sequence, gets a little too frisky.
The group moves on, but unfortunately for one of them, she falls behind out of the safety of numbers — horror movie 101 flunky — and then there were eight.
It takes a while for the group to realize their latest addition has disappeared, but they just chalk it up to her lagging behind. That is until they discover her corpse at the next attraction. Then the reality sinks in that they are, to quote another excellent urban horror film, Tales from the Hood, “knee deep in the shit.”
After arguing about what to do next, they decide to press forward instead of going back through.
They are wisely afraid of running into their friend’s killer, who remains active, murdering a couple of girls on the way to finish off the group members who are significantly slowed down by the haunt’s attractions.
A little more than halfway through the movie, I realized that a haunt like this really would be the perfect place for such a killer to stake a claim.
There is screaming and fake death all around, and a clever enough killer in such an environment could remain virtually undetected. It’s a pretty frightening concept if you think about it.
Another group member falls behind (apparently not having learned from the first victim), and then there were seven. Make that six. This killer is relentless, grabbing another of the group in a maze and dragging him away to a bloody death.
The group foolishly splits up as two of the athletes among them try to make a stand, figuring two against one gives them pretty good odds.
But when one of them chickens out after failing to do any damage against the killer with a large branch, he leaves his buddy high and dry and takes off running “like a bitch” as the kids say.
The killer takes advantage of the new odds, and then there were five.
Things take a classic-dumbass-character turn when one of the girls drops an earring and goes back for it, giving the killer just enough time to play catch up, leaving us with four and soon to be three, as the foolish girl’s friend is suffering (some might say conveniently) from anemia, which is exacerbated by the extreme fear of her friends all being killed off around her; she passes out.
Then we get a big reveal, which I did not see coming.
This is followed by another revelation that was a little more transparent. But it was resolved in a creatively tense manner and made a great transition to our final showdown.
The ending doesn’t go as well for the killer as he might have hoped but leaves things open for a sequel — which may or may not ever happen, depending on how things go with the public reception, I suppose.
I’ll be honest, it’s difficult to rate such a movie fairly. Although it treads very familiar territory and doesn’t bring a whole lot to the genre in terms of originality, it is refreshing to see a slasher film directed by an African American woman that stars several very capable black actors (Desi Banks, Marquise C. Brown, Reggie Couz, and many others).
It’s the kind of film I definitely want to see more of.
I’d say it would make a good “starter horror” movie for those not already jaded by all the overused tropes. Other more seasoned horror fans may want to give it a pass. But during this scary season, you could definitely do way worse.
And if nothing else, it should put you in the mood to get out and go to a local haunted attraction yourself.