Havenhurst: A study in bad story telling

Horror didn’t start off as one of my favorite genre’s of movies. It still isn’t, really, but my appreciation for it has grown ever since I started getting cuddles from my wife while watching them. I’m not as big a fan as she is of getting scared at something, which usually isn’t a problem since most horror movies aren’t very scary.

Let me first note that I’m not saying I don’t like horror, I’m just saying I like it less than super-hero movies. There have been horror movies I’ve really, really liked, some that had me guessing the whole way through, some that genuinly creeped me the hell out and those were fun and I enjoyed them.

Havenhurst was not such a movie.

Katie and I watched Havenhurst this weekend, because the blurb on Netflix made it look like a haunted building movie, which I’m always up for. Love hauntings, love the supernatural, gonna work it into a book someday. Havenhurst looked interesting, had some good actors in it and, somehow, was decently rated.

Now, I’m going to spoil the crap out of it because I don’t want any of you to feel like you need to watch it.

Briefly, the main character, who we’ll call Stupid from now on, is a recovering alcoholic. Her friend, another recovering addict, disappears and she enlists the aid of her cop friend (now CF). We know that Stupid’s friend is dead because we see her die in the opening scene. Stupid gets assigned to the same room in the same half-way house that her friend had before getting brutally murdered.

The first thing Stupid sees on coming to Havenhurst (her half-way house) is a picture of H.H. Holmes, a very famous serial killer who built a murder house in Chicago and killed loads of people. His real last name was “Mudget”. Stupid goes to meet with the buildings supervisor whose last name is Mudget.

If you can connect the dots, you already know the plot of the movie. Havenhurst is a murder building, with secret passages, trap doors and a dungeon at the bottom, with a giant pale killer living in it, dressed in leather fetishwhere and armed with some kind of buzz saw on his arm…I’m assuming because the director thought it looked cool.

Over the course of the movie Stupid finds a LOT of clues that people are getting killed. Basically, Mudget will have you evicted, and murdered if you fall back on whatever addiction you’re trying to kick. If you’re a recovering alcoholic and you drink, you get killed. Stupid keeps CF (Cop Friend) in the loop through the movie, but never takes any rational steps to keep from dying. I call her Stupid, because everything she does is dumb.

Long movie short, she ends up dying, the police end up being rebuffed with the dumbest reasons I’ve ever heard for police being rebuffed and the Mudget’s add another member, a young girl who had previously been Stupid’s surrogate daughter to their family because reasons.

A list of bad storytelling in Havenhurst

  1. First and foremost, the girl joining the Mudget family at the end was completely unfounded and unexplained. The character hadn’t shown any signs of sympathizing with them, and they’d killed her entire family AND the woman who she seemed to care for. It was supposed to be a twist but made no sense.
  2. The murder building made absolutely no sense. Trap doors that would have led into the apartments below, traps that made absolutely no sense, hidden doors that vanished seamlessly into walls or floors. If you’re going to do something like that, at least figure out how it might work in the real world. Don’t treat the audience like idiots.
  3. The characters made no goddamn sense. Stupid bumbles from one clue to the next, while having a friend in the police department she can bring all the evidence to, places she can run to, ways to save her own dumb life, but she ends up dead in a scene that’s supposed to be impactful but really I was so mad by that point I didn’t care if she lived or died.
  4. Several plots and subplots that are just left hanging. Stupid’s whole point for staying there was to find her friend. She never really did that because she just dies and all the character building around her and the girl just stops. Even if you’re going to kill your main character, finish your stupid plots. Keep those promises you make to your audience.
  5. Gore and jump scares are not a replacement for good story-telling. And you get one, just one, instance of someone running quickly past a door to give the audience a jump scare. After that you get a punch in the throat for every time you do it in the same movie. You most certainly shouldn’t do it with multiple characters because you can’t think of a better way to get a jump scare or break some tension.
  7. The writer clearly didn’t know the first thing about the police OR about friends work, which is sad. Stupid actually manages to call the police before she’s killed (in plenty of time actually because she’s still very alive when they get there). Cop Friend shows up with about half a dozen cars full of cops in tow (because he’d been investigating this place) and rush to her room. Mudget meets them and says they need a warrant. 1. No. No they don’t. They got an emergency call from that address, Stupid named Mudget as the person trying to kill her. The police don’t just go away when they can’t find the person who called for help, and they certainly don’t do it on the word of the main suspect. 2. Cop Friend knocks on exactly one wall, shrugs and then leaves looking defeated. He’s a sucky friend. The writer clearly doesn’t know how friends work.
  8. Don’t spoil your own story. Yeah, not everyone is going to know who H.H. Holmes was. Still, quite a few people will. The Venn diagram of people who like horror movies and people who know a thing or two about serial killers isn’t quite a compete circle, but the overlap is pretty significant. Showing the picture of H.H. Holmes in the lobby of Havenhurst AND having the landlady be named Mudget told every single one of us exactly what was happening in the movie. Why would you do that? It wasn’t even an important detail. Seriously, if you’d taken the references to Holmes out, you’d still have a movie about a creepy murder hotel, and you can draw the mystery out longer and not spoil who is and isn’t in on the whole thing.

I could go on. And on. And on and on and on. But I’m tired of talking about this pile of a movie. Some people like it. That’s fine. They’re wrong, but that’s fine. And yes, I know this isn’t exactly constructive criticism, but I have to assume that they’re going to go and make more movies that I might some day have to watch, so maybe they’ll read this, and maybe, just maybe they’ll FINISH THEIR GORRAM PLOTS. Also, please have your characters act realistically. Just because you’re going to kill them doesn’t mean you have to make it dreadfully easy for the villains. Everyone appreciates a challenge, and that includes the bad guys.