Editor’s note: Wolfman Josh is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and Movie Stream Cast. He is also a television producer and an award-winning documentary filmmaker. You can follow Josh on Twitter: @IcarusArts
Haunter is a 2013 film (with a terrible title) directed by Vincenzo Natali that stars Abigail Breslin, Peter Outerbridge and Stephen McHattie. The film premiered at SXSW in 2013 and was distributed by IFC Midnight later that year for the Halloween season.
The movie opens in the ’80s with Abigail Breslin playing a suburban teen I’d have loved to hang out with, what with her Bowie, Joy Division and Cure posters on the wall and draped in a kind of haunting Siouxsie and the Banshees t-shirt. We soon realize that Breslin’s character, Lisa Johnson, is stuck in some sort of time loop that only she seems to be aware of. As she goes through her daily routine (on the eve of her sweet sixteen) of practicing her clarinet to Peter and the Wolf (I had this exact same recording as a kid), eating her mom’s homemade mac & cheese for lunch and watching Murder She Wrote each evening with her family (this is my kind of family), I started feeling like this was a world in which I wouldn’t mind being trapped. But Lisa Johnson is, of course, less enthused as there is clearly something eerie going on here.
And “eerie” is the right word. This entire film has the feel of an extended Twilight Zone, Outer Limits or Amazing Stories segment, but with a slightly darker edge. Due to our current coverage of the Nightmare on Elm Street films on the audio podcast, I couldn’t help but compare those to this. In fact, the sinister character, who is eventually revealed to be at the heart of Haunter, is not unlike Fred Krueger. There are the themes of kidnapping, child murder and molestation and a creepy creeper who likes to toy with his victims. There is the collection of souls and even death by fire, not to mention a group banding together to try and send this MFer’s soul straight to hell.
The basic description of this film on Netflix gives away far more than I have here and maybe that is necessary to grab an audience’s interest in what looks like a pretty generic film on the surface, but I think it gives away what would have otherwise been one of the most interesting twists in the movie’s plot.
Where I’ll leave it is to simply say that Lisa’s Groundhog Day-esque routine reflects on what we know of reported paranormal events and many iconic paranormal movie moments—and that was cool to see. When Lisa finally “wakes up” from her cyclical parade of events (that had me thinking fondly on the repetitive Crave-Inn scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master) she attempts to wake her family as well. This is where things turn bad for Lisa as the facade of this phony world starts to show its cracks and eventually bursts at the seams.
I hope this review isn’t too infuriating to read. This is just a difficult film to review without spoiling and if you’re going to watch it, you should have as clean an experience as possible.
As for the actual filmmaking, the writing and directing are good here. It is well shot too, though I can feel the budget at times. The performances are solid. I still think Little Miss Sunshine was the high watermark for Abigail Breslin’s career, but she’s fine here as Lisa. Stephen McHattie was great as usual and I was really surprised and impressed by Peter Outerbridge as Lisa’s father. I’ll now be seeking-out Outerbridge’s his other work.
Haunter is a horror film, though mostly horror-lite, and I think audiences who go in expecting something more along the lines of the above-mentioned Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories and The Outer Limits will be the most pleased with their experience. It has the feel of a lot of lower-budget Stephen King adaptations as well. Something like Christine, Storm of the Century or Sometimes They Come Back. It is not all that dissimilar to the last film I reviewed for our 31 Days of Halloween, The Awakening, and again I’d compare this to The Sixth Sense or The Others, but tossed in a blender with Groundhog Day. If any of that sounds interesting to you, then the twists and turns that I avoided—and the more grounded approach to a Freddy Kruegar-like backstory—should keep your interest for the run of the film and give you a few good scares along the way.
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