Well-made and effective, HAVENHURST (2016) is one of those horror movies that's so intensely suspenseful that it may have you reaching for the ulcer medicine before it's over.
As recovering alcoholic Jackie, a dark-haired Julie Benz conveys the same wounded vulnerability that defined her character on "Dexter." This time, however, she's still grieving over the loss of her young daughter during a drunken mishap and struggling against a perpetual craving to hit the sauce again.
When her rehab group locates her in the very same apartment from which her friend Danielle (cult fave Danielle Harris) disappeared without a trace, Jackie quickly begins to suspect some kind of foul play going on within the massive old Victorian building.
(We've already seen Danielle and her cokehead boyfriend get murdered by an unseen maniac in the first scene, SCREAM-style, so we're way ahead of her.)
Other tenants are shown being terrorized and killed in nasty ways, all of which director and co-writer Andrew C. Erin renders with ample style and creepy-old-house Gothic atmosphere.
While much of the film's first half is straight thriller stuff, there are a couple of key scenes that are surprisingly over-the-top gory. This is especially true of the fate which befalls the abusive foster father of Sarah (Belle Shouse, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST), a troubled little girl from the building whom Jackie befriends.
Venerable actress Fionnula Flanagan (SLIPSTREAM, KILL THE IRISHMAN) already creeped us out in THE OTHERS and gets to do so again here as the building's oddball owner, Eleanor, who may know a thing or two about the strange goings-on, as might her overgrown handyman son, Ezra (Matt Lasky, INALIENABLE).
The film doesn't really keep us all that much in the dark, so to speak, about who's behind it all as much as how and why. Jackie's very obliging cop friend Tim (Josh Stamberg) helps her follow the clues, but most of the suspense comes from Jackie and Sarah doing the Nancy Drew bit themselves as they worm their way into the hidden inner workings of that creepy old building and ever closer to grave peril.
And it's here that HAVENHURST really gets you in the gut. Not really all that truly scary, it's one of the most painfully suspenseful horror flicks I've seen in a long time. Director Erin is a whiz at keeping our nerves stretched taut and our rear ends on the edge of our seats for sustained periods of time.
What he's not so good at, unfortunately, is wrapping it all up in satisfactory fashion, unless you happen to be one of those movie masochists who enjoy having your emotional investment in a film rewarded by an abruptly downbeat ending that leaves you with a sour stomach.
HAVENHURST is a well-crafted, nailbiting ride, but you might want to have a bottle of Pepto-Bismol handy at the fadeout.
Pre-order the DVD (release date: March 7)
Coming to Select Theaters and on Cable and Digital VOD February 10