Haunter (2013)

Posted: August 15, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Lisa (Abigail Breslin) finds herself trapped in her home reliving the same day over and over with her oblivious family.

After a fast start to his career with the excellent “Cube” and the under-appreciated “Cypher”, Canadian film-maker Vincenzo Natali’s career had stalled somewhat with the batshit crazy but deeply flawed “Nothing” and “Splice”, a ludicrous film that almost qualifies as “so-bad-it’s-good” (but still didn’t manage to be the most laughably bad Adrian Brody film released in 2009 thanks to the truly abysmal “Giallo”).

He arrives back on the scene with “Haunter”, a supernatural mystery thriller, which has been receiving positive feedback on the festival circuit without getting a full cinema release, and is now widely available on DVD. Something of a return to basics, Natali’s trademarks are present and correct, from his inventive, silky visuals, to the labyrinthine twisting plots he seems in thrall of, and even the ramshackle CGI that has bedevilled much of his work.

The “reliving the same day” set-up is always terrific fun, mined to great effect in “Groundhog Day”, and the recent “Edge of Tomorrow” among many others, although “Haunter” does a great job in steering itself away from the ground those films covered. Here the device is used as a means to present a mystery and slowly unravel it, like peeling away the layers of an onion. This is done effectively and lovingly, and the film’s main strength lies in how engrossing the mystery at it’s centre is.

There is a healthy dose of pinching from other films, most obviously in the initial set-up but also from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series (which is heavily mined), as well a few other notable plot lifts that are probably best left unmentioned so as not to spoil too much; although you will definitely know them when you see them. In many ways this magpie tendency becomes a positive, as the film repeatedly sheds it’s skin, morphing in ways that, although still derivative, are at least unexpected. Just when you think you have a handle on what the film is doing, it moves on, with every mystery solved just an opportunity to start unravelling the next. Although it is likely that the assembly was somewhat cynical (and the final “happy” coda feels depressingly tacked on), it does make for a gripping and surprising journey.

Abigail Breslin as Lisa shows that she is maturing into a leading lady of real standing, in no way resembling the goofy child star of “Little MIss Sunshine”, and making what could have been a frustrating role incredibly endearing. At once exasperated and scared by her situation, she is still believable when required to muster the courage to face the evil of the house, striking a fine balance that could easily have eluded a young actress (shockingly, Breslin was only 16 when this was filmed), especially when the camera is on them for much of the film’s duration. The rest of the cast are equally able in their roles, with particular mention to the wonderfully craggy-faced Stephen McHattie, who makes good use of his weathered features as the creepy and mysterious “Pale Man”. There is even time for a brief cameo from long-time Natali collaborator David Hewlett, a pleasing Easter egg for fans, even if he is somewhat under-used.

If there is one major criticism, it is that the film isn’t particularly scary, something that many consider a cardinal sin for a film in the horror genre. There are a few nice jump scares in the early going, but beyond a certain point the lack of peril is palpable, as if it fell victim to the multitude of narrative turns the film undertakes. Despite that, “Haunter” is a real return to form for Natali, a well made and creepily effective low-key ghost story that keeps your attention from start to slightly hackneyed finish.

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Comments
  1. theipc says:

    Hey! Nice! I liked this thing!

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