Written by: Matt Molgaard
I’m not a big fan of the Groundhog’s Day effect. Repetition in a picture can be a tough thing for me to absorb. Any time you see the same scene repeat itself a half dozen times, it wears on you. And, that’s just how Haunter launches, with one single sequence of events looped and played on repeat. After 20 minutes dread began to set in…
Haunter actually proves to be a clever film, plowing through the repetitive rut it begins in, and opening up to showcase a detailed story that, essentially functions in reverse. We’re accustomed to ghost stories, and we’re certainly not foreign to the idea of ghosts reaching out to the living in order to help solve some wild mystery and set their souls free. But screenwriters Brian King and Matthew Brian King propose a unique question: What if the situation was completely rearranged, and it wasn’t the living aiding the deceased, but the deceased aiding the living? It’s a cool concept, and director Vincenzo Natali (who also directed noteworthy genre additions, Splice and Cube) makes good on bringing the concept to viewers in clear, coherent and most important, enjoyable fashion.
The story sees teenage, Lisa struggle with her daily routine that never seems to change. Every day is the day before her 16th birthday. Every day she eats mac and cheese. Every day she does the laundry, some of which mysteriously goes missing… always. It’s a mentally taxing cycle, but things change for Lisa as she works to alter her future, eventually coming to the realization that she’s experiencing this strange phenomenon because she’s dead, which subsequently instills the knowledge that she’s got to make some changes to her routine if she hopes to break the cycle. It isn’t long before Lisa puts the puzzle pieces together, battling the clock in the hopes of saving a still-living family and vacating her current torturous existence.
This one works. It sputters from the gate, but the engine eventually does a bit of smoothing out, and then the complexity of the tale really kicks into high gear. There’s a well thought out mystery in wait, and it’s just dark enough to warrant a horror label, but measured enough to avoid turning off crucial demographics. It isn’t a gory film, and it isn’t loaded with profanity or gratuitous nudity. It is however, extremely engaging once the groundwork has been laid in the first act.
Abigail Breslin does a stellar job of carrying the entire picture on her shoulders. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of supporters, but the real work, the demanding, emotional work is left to Breslin, who proves that age means absolutely nothing in this business; when you’ve got it, you’ve got it. Breslin’s got it. She’s convincing, consistent and sympathetic, the perfect counter to her onscreen nemesis, portrayed by the great Stephen McHattie, who unfortunately doesn’t have much of any screen time in this one. In fact, outside of the first act, and a few somewhat quizzical details in the plot, the lack of McHattie (that sounds strange) is really the only other major deterrent preventing this one from reaching great status. As it is, it’s a fine film that should work particularly well for fans of the ghostly/supernatural subgenre.