There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned haunted house flick to get you in the mood for autumn. While these staples of the horror genre usually fall victim to the same formulaic pitfalls due to there simply being so many of them, it’s still fun to see how different filmmakers tackle these age-old tropes. That brings us to Shane Van Dyke’s A Haunting in Salem, a remarkably traditional ghost movie.
The film stars Bill Oberst Jr. as Wayne Downs, the new town Sheriff of Salem, as he moves into a centuries-old house with his wife and two children. After a few bizarre and seemingly paranormal occurrences shake up their new lives, the family begins to suspect that dark forces are at work here, and Sheriff Downs becomes hell-bent on solving the dark mystery behind his new home, which seems to be connected to the Salem witch trials.
Although connecting the plot to Salem’s infamous history sounds like a novel idea, as the thought of undead witches seeking revenge for their cruel executions feels fresh, it’s really just set dressing on top of a run-of-the-mill ghost story. There isn’t much that sets A Haunting in Salem apart from most other supernatural thrillers, which results in a movie that’s not quite as interesting as it could have been.
On the other hand, the film is way more atmospheric than usual The Asylum productions, with some deliberate pacing and patient set-ups for paranormal scares. The wonderfully moody ambiance can mostly be attributed to the excellent location, as the film was shot inside an actual 200-year-old mansion, adding a bit of class to the production.
The movie is also surprisingly restrained with its scares, as most of them rely on slowly but consistently building up dread instead of pure shock value. Sadly, the payoff to these scares is usually disappointing, with some lackluster effects and unoriginal visuals. There is a refreshing lack of CGI spooks, but that doesn’t quite make up for the lack of inspired frights.
Nevertheless, the main family is likable enough, with caring parents and teenagers who are somehow not completely annoying. Sadly, there isn’t much depth to most of these characters, though it is implied that Sheriff Downs has a tragic past. Either way, some more character development could have greatly improved the impact of this seemingly tragic tale of a family torn apart by vengeful spirits.
Ultimately, A Haunting in Salem is stuck in a strange limbo, as it’s not quite schlocky enough to be a fun ride, but not serious or original enough to be a genuinely good movie. While the atmosphere is well-executed, the rest of the film is simply too formulaic to stand out. It’s not necessarily a bad movie, just not a memorable one.
A Haunting in Salem will be playing in select Cinemark theaters on October 26th as a part of Thursday Nights at The Asylum!