Haunter (2013) / Horror-Mystery

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for frightening images, peril and smoking
Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Abigail Breslin, Peter Outerbridge, Michelle Nolden, Peter DaCunha, Stephen McHattie, Eleanor Zichy, Samantha Weinstein, David Hewlett, Sarah Manninen, David Knoll
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Screenplay: Brian King

Review published October 30, 2013

Vincenzo Natali, the Canadian filmmaker who directed the cult films Cube and Splice, directs this intriguing piece that feels like an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone", but a good one. Brian King (Night Train, Cypher) adapts this screenplay taken from his story, which gives up a big piece of the puzzle early, but manages to continue to intrigue with time-jumps and twists -- the tunnel hidden behind the washing machine, and the clue underneath the floorboards of the bedroom -- that may remind some of the TV show "LOST", but in a house instead of an island, and done on a much smaller scale. Natali imbues the film with a sepia-toned style that keeps the film looking and feeling on the right side of eerie.

Initially set in 1985, Abigail Breslin (The Call, Zombieland) stars as a teenager named Lisa Johnson, who is stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque situation, whereby she relives the same day over and over -- the same breakfast, the same meatloaf, the same laundry chores, the same episode of "Murder She Wrote" with the fam. Her oblivious parents are of no help, who think she's off her rocker when she tries to tell them of their predicament, more concerned with what's going on with the clothing that has gone missing from the day's load of laundry.  As she goes through the doldrums of another boring day (the day before her 16th birthday), she begins to notice strange sounds and things out of place, and has learned to anticipate them, in the hope that she'll be able to figure out their source.

As she goes further, something changes, not only in her daily routine, but with the personalities of her family as well; Dad (Outerbridge, Lucky Number Slevin) starts to smoke (he claims to have done it for years) and she begins to see her little brother Robbie's (DaCunha, A Dark Truth) so-called imaginary friend, Edgar. Eventually, she is visited by a strange man who tells her she had better cease poking around and, in a twist similar to the film The Others, stop trying to make contact with the living, opening up Lisa's world to the notion that she's no longer alive, merely a ghost stuck in the house she and her family were killed in by a serial killer who has killed and gotten away with it many times before, and he's about to strike again.

As with most horror-mysteries, the film scores most of its points as we're trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle, as Lisa begins to time-shift between 30 years in the past, when the first victim had been claimed by the killer, up through the present day, where the current inhabitants of the house are beginning to experience something is amiss.  Though the script is nifty enough to score up at least a cult b-movie audience, Haunter's biggest asset comes from the solid performance by Abigail Breslin, who gives much-needed nuance to a role that isn't written to have much of one.

Haunter continuously flirts with being a good film throughout, but, like so many thrillers do, its momentum begins to peter out as it heads into a gimmicky, deus-ex-machina ending, primarily because we've run out of mysteries to solve and are just in it for the final confrontation. Part of the reason it sags a bit when it should soar comes from the realization that this is a film that is more about the nifty plot and less about the characters that inhabit it. We admire the twisty nature of the story, but without much build-up of the heroine at the heart of the film, we're basically only along for the ride to learn answers to our questions, and care far less for how her life, or her afterlife, manages to turn out.

Haunter may not blow away typical horror aficionados, who will likely find the lack of blood, gore and shock-scares to be shrug-worthy, but for those who enjoy interesting new takes on old formulas, this is a perfectly adequate time-killer that introduces just enough curves in its story to maintain a healthy amount of intrigue. It may not be the stuff that haunts your nightmares, but for 90+ minutes of creepy diversion, it's a surprisingly solid genre take.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo