The best ghost stories have a central mystery at their heart, with the protagonist trying to figure out who the ghost is and what it wants, but with 2013’s Haunter, director Vincenzo Natali gives us a more unique point of view as this teenage protagonist believes she is stuck in some kind of time loop, but something much darker is going on.
Teenage Lisa Johnson (Abigail Breslin ) finds herself perpetually stuck on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, her family completely oblivious to the fact that they are living the same day over and over again. She is awoken each morning with the same broadcast over a walkie-talkie by her little brother Robbie (Peter DaCunha ), who wants her to come join him and his imaginary friend Edgar on their hunt for pirate treasure. Her mother (Michelle Nolden ) will cook the same mac & cheese dinner every day while also constantly wondering why some items are missing from the laundry. Her father (Peter Outerbridge ) spends most of his time in the garage trying to get the car to work so that the family can go out for Lisa’s birthday the following day, but that day never comes. Lisa repeatedly tries to explain to her parents that they’ve been living the same day again and again but this is, of course, chalked up to teen angst and she is ignored. The situation is made worse by the fact that the family home is shrouded in an unending fog, making the claustrophobia of the situation even more appalling.
What at first seems like a typical Groundhog Day type time loop is quickly turned on its head when we get the reveal that Lisa and her family are dead. This is not a spoiler, don’t worry on that point, as this revelation comes out pretty early on in the story. Writer Brian King isn’t setting up things for a twist ending vis-à-vis The Sixth Sense or The Others as this movie is more about Lisa trying to solve the mystery of their deaths than it is of them being unknowing ghosts. Lisa is plagued by strange voices and is soon led to discover hidden rooms and secret journals that divulge the fact that their home once belonged to a serial killer, one who preyed on teenage girls for decades. Unfortunately, this investigation upsets said serial killer and soon the Pale Man (Stephen McHattie) makes his presence known.
This mysterious intruder makes it clear that “Whenever you hear strange noises in this house, or voices calling out to you, ignore them, pretend they don’t exist. If you try to contact the living, or anyone else, you and your family will suffer in ways you cannot fathom.” As Lisa and her family are already dead, the idea that he can make things worse for them is rather chilling, and it’s clear that he has great power over the inhabitants of his house, living or dead. Needless to say, frightened or not, Lisa will get to the bottom of this mystery and it’s while trying to figure out what the Pale Man’s whole deal is that she has an encounter with Olivia (Eleanor Zichy), another sixteen-year-old girl and the current “living” resident of the house. While Lisa is trapped in the ghostly limbo of 1984 she is somehow able to contact Olivia who lives with her own family in 2013, and it’s here that Lisa discovers that the Pale Man is still a threat to the living.
• If you are in a horror movie and your child has an invisible friend, GET OUT!
• That the Pale Man turns fathers into murderous assholes is maybe a little too close to the Jack Torrance character in Stephen King’s The Shining.
• Who buys the house of a notorious serial killer? Not only was this the home of a serial killer, but the previous tenants all died as well. That does not give one a “Home Sweet Home” impression.
• Once again, Ouija boards are notoriously unhelpful
• It’d be interesting to see a version of this movie from Olivia’s perspective.
• I’m not sure how the hidden murder room was never discovered, what with it having a very noticeable red door leading to it. The door couldn’t have been hidden behind a dryer forever. Are we supposed to believe the people who eventually drywalled over it never wondered where it led to?
The basic premise to Haunter is an intriguing one and does keep the viewer guessing throughout its ninety-minute run-time, but what really makes this film tick is the fantastic cast that Vincenzo Natali managed to assemble here, and none stand out more than the wonderful Abigail Breslin. It’s her terror and tenacity to save her family that keeps one invested in the film; that she and her family can’t simply just “Get Out” adds a nice wrinkle to the horror genre. This isn’t a simple serial-killer murder mystery (with a soul-collecting ghost how could it be?), but Haunter also works as a nice empowering film for young girls, which is rather nice. If you are tired of ghost stories with relentless jump scares, then do yourself a favour and track down this little gem.
Movie Rank - 7.5/10
Vincenzo Natali’s Haunter is a great little ghost story with an enthralling premise that puts a nice spin on things, not to mention it all being supported by a fantastic cast.