The ghost of a teenager who died years ago reaches out to the land of the living in order to save someone from suffering her same fate.
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
7 out of 10
Director Vincenzo Natali (Splice) this go around, supplies supernatural horror fans with an atmospheric, interesting and capable little story in ‘Haunter.” Abigail Breslin (Signs, The Call) stars as a rebellious, spunky but distressed teen named Lisa who is enduring some strange goings on in her home. She lives with her younger brother Robbie (Peter DaCunha) and her parents, Carol (Michelle Nolden) and Bruce (Peter Outerbridge). She experiences peculiar and repetitive occurrences in her home that seem to involve the same weird day being repeated over and over again like some spiritual version of “Groundhog Day.” She appears to be the only one who notices something is amiss in the house which always seems to be shut off from the rest of the world by a perpetual fog bank. This prevents them from ever leaving. It seems that they are all somewhat isolated and with this, Natali sets up the film as a bit of a psychological story.
Lisa seems “intuitive” or pretty susceptible to what is going on in the house. She knows point by point what will transpire everyday much to the shock and dismay of her parents who seem quite unnerved by her behavior. They can tell she is disturbed somehow but cannot get her to truly talk about her issues. Lisa, in turn, rebels more but when things in the routine start to change, it urges Lisa into suspecting something deeper is afoot. Natali’s film gains some momentum as Lisa feels strange presences, sees thing move about, hears music and even discovers a small door behind the washing machine (she seems to always be doing the laundry). The door, obviously, holds some secrets and and leads to a passageway where Lisa discovers a slew of small and very old possessions like watches and timepieces.
Lisa discovers other things as well like killing jars, old newspapers and curios. When the strange appearance of “The Pale Man,” played by Stephen McHattie (Pontypool, The Tall Man), occurs, Lisa begins to suspect he may have some information about whether or not the home may be occupied by ghosts or spirits. He is not very approachable at first but he lets out some morsels of info to Lisa about not “listening to what the spirit or spirits have to say.” Lisa, without the help of her parents (her Father remains disturbed and distracted by fervently attempting to fix their automobile), continues to dig deeper and eventually it appears that she is being contacted by another girl her age who may be trying to reach her or warn her about her experiences. Or is it a cry for help?
Breslin, right off of her convincing and entertaining performance in “The Call,” gives a remarkable performance here as well. She is sincere and exceptionally passionate. She also walks a fine line, that in inferior hands, would have been bombastic and trite. She emotes with her eyes and her gestures and mannerisms are conservative and executed properly. She is the reason the film works and she holds he picture together well. Not that it needs to be saved from anything that would pigeon hole it as a routine thriller. Quite the contrary. The movie, in Natali’s capable hands is a decent entry in the genre. But it isn’t even really a horror picture, though.
The film, if I had to find fault, is not terribly scary. It is, though, compelling and refreshing. The movie has mood, grim atmosphere but what works is the well written family dynamics and the way the story connects the past, present and future. As Lisa unravels the mystery and the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit, the movie stays quite grounded. Natali handles the layers of the story and the movie with the help of an eerie score and jarring but inventive photography by Jon Joffin (The Andromeda Strain). Outerbridge and Nolden as Lisa’s parents are honest, warm and sincere. Outerbridge manages to shake up the film a bit as he becomes unhinged about his vehicle.
As the film wraps up we find out even more about McHattie’s “Pale Man” and his involvement in the whole affair which makes for a very interesting and nifty twist in the movie. McHattie manages to creep us out but remains enigmatic and mysterious through out the picture. By the very end some horror conventions take over but not to any long lasting ill effect. All being said, this small movie (which may have benefited from a wider release but I am just guessing) has enough chills and spookiness to recommend.
It isn’t flashy and does not loudly cram scare tactics down our throat. If Natali’s intention was to scare us, then he didn’t live up to it here, unfortunately. But no loss. “Haunter” is nifty, tight and solid. It may not be a film that warrants many re-watches but it’s claustrophobic, moody and has some nice surprises in it. Breslin’s remarkable work is the foundation which makes Natali’s film work so well. Enjoy!