31 Days of Halloween — Day 27: Haunter (2013) — by Wolfman Josh

haunter_posterEditor’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.

—Wolfman Josh


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5 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 27: Haunter (2013) — by Wolfman Josh

  1. 31 Days of Holloween day 27

    61. Dan Curtis’ Dracula (****) – I used to think it was all about Christopher Lee but I’m beginning to think that Jack Palance actually had the best take on the character.

    62. Spring (****) – That’s how you do a love story. I’m pretty sure her head was twice the size of his.

  2. (May contain minor spoilers)

    Day 27 – Visions (2015)

    Visions is the latest movie designed to scare the crap out of any pregnant women. It seems as if whenever there is a horror movie built around a pregnant lead, the scares come naturally. The woman is in such peril where she’s not at 100% and not only does she need to worry about her own life, but the fragile life of her unborn baby. It seems as if half the time, you’re just worrying about something bad happening and the baby gets loss. You don’t get that with any other main lead. I’m saying all this simply to get over the point that it’s very easy to feel concern for a main lead if she’s pregnant. At times, Visions felt as if it could go down the Rosemary’s Baby and Inside path.

    The first half of the film is rather rough. The apparent haunting is never scary. Truthfully, it’s bad enough that Visions felt as if it would be a giant dud. The “Scares” involves a whistling sound, chairs sliding out (oh no…not a moving chair~!), and weird visions that quickly get revealed to be a delusion. I don’t feel as if Isla Fisher’s character of Eveleigh is in any actual danger. Part of this failure of the first half must be attributed to Fisher’s wooden acting. I love Fisher, she’s totally gorgeous, she’s typically fun, and tends to be great as wacky characters like in Wedding Crashers and Bachelorette. Fisher trying to be a play a dramatic serious character? Not so much. It certainly doesn’t help that the script tends to be pretty awful. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, if your lines are weak, you’re not going to be able to save the lines much.

    From a very early point, you have a general idea of the big reveals. At the very beginning of the film, you’re shown a flashback to an important car crash scene and it’s easy to tell that it’s going to be revealed far bigger than it’s originally played to be. Without flat out stating the big reveals, I’d say I got most of the basics right, but it took a far more physical route than sticking with the supernatural. There’s someone in the movie that revealed not to be trustworthy towards Eveleigh and the moment you see this character, you instantly know they will be revealed to be an antagonist. Due to the easy comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby, I wasn’t sure how many people would be revealed as being villains. For the most part, nothing will truly shock you, even if you’re not able to accurately predict everything.

    The final twenty or so minutes is when the movie finally picks up and becomes interesting. Everything is revealed and the action becomes physical. There’s a great intense scene at the end that will make you squirm. Once I finished watching the movie, I had to look up when Isla Fisher was pregnant because the idea of her being actually pregnant while filming some of these scenes would have been totally insane. Luckily, it seems as if the movie was shot in between a couple of her pregnancies. Even though Fisher would have earned a ton of respect by going through everything she did while actually pregnant, I’m glad she wasn’t subjected to some of those legitimate pregnant fears during one of her pregnancies. The final twenty minutes is when everything goes crazy, which is when several characters get killed off. With so little actual action during the haunting portion of the first half, I was appreciative to seeing something tangible happen to Eveleigh. As the movie did turn itself around, I’m likely far more upbeat about the film than I likely would be if I watched it a second time around. When you have a movie that is just sucking and you’re regretting watching it, the movie becoming suddenly entertaining can go a long way in being a pleasant surprise. Endings can mean everything in films. A bad ending can ruin a movie while a good one can make you forget about all of the negatives.

    A couple of other things that stood out to me. I find it really annoying whenever movies have a family live in a crazy expensive looking house. The house and property that Eveleigh and her husband owns is insane. They literally own their own vineyard! How is that relateable for most people? You see this all the time. Eli Roth’s Knock Knock takes place in this gorgeous house. Earlier in the year, I caught the Poltergeist remake and everyone in the movie would talk about what a dump and a downgrade their new house was. Meanwhile, it’s a beautiful home. I’m not asking for movies to show trailer parks, but what about just normal looking middle class homes so that the average moviegoer can relate to it better? The worst part of all is that most plots aren’t dependent on the family seemingly being stinking rich. If you take away the vineyard and put this couple in a normal home, would it have altered the plot at all? Not really. On the positive side, I really dug the soundtrack. Most of it has this similarity to something like Psycho or other Hitchcock era films. The big intense scene at the end has this piercing music that ups the tension ante. The soundtrack is probably the best part about the entire movie.

    Overall, Visions is hardly a movie you should go out of your way to watch, but it’s enjoyable enough that when it pops up on your favorite streaming service, give it a watch. As I said at the start of the review, pregnant women in horror can really up the tension due to their vulnerability. Actors like Isla Fisher, Jim Parsons, and Gillian Jacobs are all best known for their comedy, so it’s kind of interesting to see them doing something different. There might even be some decent replay value in trying to spot all of the clues and little events that end up meaning everything in the final act. Since Visions comes across more of a thriller than a straight up horror, you could probably even talk your non-horror buddy into watching it.

    I’d give it a 6.

  3. Day 27: Honeyspider
    This is Kenny Caperton’s (from Meyer’s house NC) film. Watch this only if you know how he is and are interested in his film.

  4. Thanks a lot Josh — watched this one and was very impressed. There was tension throughout and that seems pretty rare these days, to have the story unfold in such a way you don’t get bored or overloaded with stuff all at once. I thought Abigail Breslin was tremendous — sorting things out, finding a sense of purpose, fighting back, and always reflecting a very real balance of courage and fear. She didn’t flip a switch and turn into a kung foo master and I found that refreshing.

    Totally agree on the “Nightmare” comparison and I think this movie is much, much darker than what we get with Freddy. The inversion of “sleeping” and “waking” is compelling in that you kind of don’t want to “wake up” because when you do it is an extension of the hopelessness and basically a purgatory sort of scenario, and that is truly scary.

    Thanks much Josh — another great suggestion.

    Graham

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