Scott Beck and Bryan Woods have been making a name for themselves in Hollywood in recent years. The spotlight shined on these two after the worldwide success of the film A Quiet Place, a film that they had both teamed up to write. After that film left theaters, many were wondering what their next project would be and what creeptastic horrors they could unleash upon unsuspecting audiences.
Now they have come back to us with their new film, HAUNT, which will make audiences think twice about the haunted houses and mazes they choose to attend. During our chat, we got some insight into their experiences attending haunts in the Midwest and their inspiration in writing the movie HAUNT.
To start things off, how did you both come up with the story and did you both always know you wanted to direct HAUNT?
Scott Beck: Yeah, that’s a good question. Our, Bryan and my sensibilities, is we love writing scripts that can be made. So HAUNT definitely fell into that category where we were in the wake of A Quiet Place. We were kind of writing them both simultaneously and we kept saying A Quiet Place was more like our love of the other side of the horror genre, where it’s like M. Night Shyamalan. High concept mixed with character drama. HAUNT was very much going back to our love of slashers and our love of roller-coaster ride horror films. So in writing it, obviously, we were a fan of the sub-genre of haunted house movies. We were trying to find the window and that, for us, always comes through with the theme. With A Quiet Place, outside of the gimmick of making a sound and you die, the theme there was very much rooted in family communication and that was just as important as anything else in that story for us. This was also about wearing masks and the fact that people in everyday life always put on a front, a facade. What was fun for us in HAUNT was really working to find what was terrifying to us in terms of vintage Halloween masks and how we could elevate the terror once they finally take off that mask and really, really up the stakes at that point. So that was kind of the germination of the idea but beyond that, it was about trying to figure out designing the most terrifying haunted house that we possibly could with our Art Direction Team, which was a whole other ball game that was a lot of fun.
Haunted attractions are something that are very important to me and I’ve been lucky enough to attend many of them throughout the last 20 years. That said, have you both ever attended an extreme haunt and where did you guys pull your inspiration from in terms of helping with the designs and traps?
Bryan Woods: Scott and I have known each other since we were 11 and we grew up in the Midwest, in Iowa, so every Halloween we would always go Haunted Housing. It’s funny because we live in Los Angeles now as filmmakers and it’s like people don’t really know what haunted houses are out here. They have Halloween Horror Nights where you go to a theme park. When we were teenagers we would go to this sketchy warehouse in the middle of nowhere and everybody who was working there were doing their hobby and dream of scaring the hell out of people which just made it all the more eerie. [HAUNT] was based on our experiences of going Haunted Housing when we were younger and beyond that it was just a mix of what we’ve always wanted to see in a haunted house, like what our dream of a haunted house is. A lot of haunted houses during Halloween time feel, especially at the theme park, like an assault on your senses – like a nonstop aggressive assault of sound and noise and people popping out and we always thought it would be interesting to go through a haunted house experience that is a little bit more quiet and a little bit more low key and a little bit more eerie. When you’re not sure if it’s real or not or if these people are in on it or if they are actually doing horrible things or are we just mixed up in some really elaborate setup and so that’s what we were leaning on for our inspiration.
What I found to be really interesting, an aspect that I felt you both hit the nail on the head with, was using the experience of a haunt not just in terms of a horror story but in processing trauma as well. Was that always part of the plan?
Scott Beck: Yeah it was and it kind of goes back to what you asked in the first question. Outside of it being just a haunted house movie we wanted it to have a very character-centric, thematic importance to the story. With Harper’s back story, that was at the forefront of everything that we were shooting because, for people, haunted houses can be triggering and traumatic incidents like this can be triggering. Of course, as storytellers, we are always trying to find ways to show what might be a slice of life, or at least be a conversational point, that connects to people’s own experiences. What if you could push past that trauma, or what if you could confront it head on? And that very much was rooted from the get-go when we were talking about Harper’s story throughout the entire production.
Without giving too much away, when the “scare-actors” removed their masks, did you want it to be just as surprising as it was when they were wearing the masks?
Bryan Woods: Absolutely. First and foremost, what we were going for, like the fun if you will, of making a Halloween movie, was the fun of writing this movie and leaning into everything we love about horror and leaning into all of the iconography. We just got so excited about what our characters would look like in terms of Universal Monsters. Like who was our Devil and what was our Devil going to look like? What was our Ghost and Vampire going to look like? It could go on and on and on. It would be so fun to do a sequel because there’s so many monsters left on the table. We got really excited about creating these and then we just thought there’s something so eerie about those 1930’s style vacuform Halloween masks. There’s just something very, very scary about that. Then again, just leaning into our theme, the theme of what is everyone hiding under a mask. Who are our heroes and what is Harper hiding about her past under a metaphorical mask. We wanted to do that literally with monsters and show that they were hiding something under their masks.
Scott Beck: Yeah and I think to add to that, other references in the back of our mind were actually David Fincher’s The Game. The way that kind of feeds into the story as a whole, and the monsters, is that you go throughout the story and at certain points in it you’re not sure whether or not you believe what is happening around you or not and we wanted to play that back and forth for awhile. What ended up happening was that with the characters of the ghost, for instance, we were writing the script and we were like this is an opportunity to really play with whether he’s an advocate for these guys or he’s not. Really playing with those expectations was something that lends itself to the mask reveal because we wanted to put a nail in the coffin of whether or not these guys were gonna be helpful or not.
We attribute the mask design to our production designer, Austin Gorg, who was the Art Director on Neon Demon, La La Land, and Midnight Special, these beautiful movies in the last few years. We loved that he came from outside the horror genre but then when working with him we discovered that he actually built haunted houses and did mask designs when he was a kid. He was able to fulfill a childhood dream of creating these things and, just in our opinion, knocked it out of the park.
Lastly, what I felt made this film work so wonderfully were the relationships between the characters. That said, what was that process like when it came to casting?
Scott Beck: Well, thank you for saying that. I know certainly in the writing process we were always trying to find as true a dynamic, or as real a dynamic, as possible. We were watching a lot of Richard Linklater films like Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some and we were seeing why those group dynamics worked. So our Casting Director, Nancy Nayor, really brought to the table a group that would get along really well together not just on screen but off screen. Katie Stevens, who played the lead, is nothing like what Harper is in real life which really shook us at first because she imbued that character beautifully. Will Brittain was actually in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some and we just really loved his naturalism and we felt super honored to have him come to the table. And the same with Lauryn McClain and Andrew Caldwell and Shazi Raja and Schuyler Helford – they all really clicked together which is super rare and we were hoping it would lend something to the screen. Beyond that, casting the villains was just as fun. The actor that plays the clown, Justin Marxen, is somebody that we have known since we were 15 years old and we always wanted to work together with him on a bigger production.
Bryan Woods: He was like the star of all our student films and low budget films growing up, and it was really cool because he auditioned for the role. We didn’t really see him for this role and he just kept saying “Let me tape again, let me tape again” and we were so close , we wanted him to get the role so badly, because we’re friends with him but we put it to our producers to decide out of all the clown auditions who was the best because we were afraid that we were biased. They all agreed that Justin was the best so it was really fun for us to work him.
HAUNT is now in theaters and On Demand/Digital. For more on HAUNT, check out our review here.