Tuesday, 25 February 2014

HAUNTER (2013) Delivers the Goods!

Think Beetlejuice. Now, Think The Others. Now, Think Darker... But with Abigail Breslin!

Working in the Canadian Film Industry for over two decades, Vincenzo Natali has garnered quite the resume. This includes Ginger Snaps (Storyboard Artist), and Splice (Writer/Director), so it's fair to expect from him a familiar story with a dark side and a sharpened edge. Haunter delivers.

It would be interesting to enter this movie without knowing anything about it, to let it blindside you. It wants to, after all. But if you have read even the smallest, vaguest synopsis, you'll have a pretty good idea about what is going on, as I did. The IMDB plot reads: 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.
So the mysterious atmosphere, and Lisa's (Breslin) insistence that she is reliving the same day, again and again, did not generate much confusion or tension. However, I was very curious to watch this story unravel. This was partly because the Groundhog Day experience paired with what I figured would become a Beetlejuice-like scenario made me assume it was safe to believe the film would be quite fun. What soon became evident was that it was taking shape less like the wittiness of Beetlejuice and more like the sadness of The Others. And then, it got creepier.


The story finally reveals itself to be the kind of horror that is rooted in reality. There is malevolent ghost who has Lisa trapped. He seems to have control over every aspect of her afterlife. Why? Because he is the ghost of a psycho who hunted and kidnapped girls when he was alive, storing them in a furnace, and he has found a way to continue doing it in death. He is pure evil. Worse, he is the kind of evil you hear about on the news.

Canadian film is "well known" (so to speak) for its ambiguous endings. They tend to leave you with a feeling of emptiness and uncertainty. Their lack of closure is then reinforced by a resistance to giving the protagonist a decisively happy ending. Haunter is no different, but I guess since she's already dead - things cannot exactly get worse...

I liked this film. It was more intense than I expected, but was never excessive in regards to on-screen violence of any nature. It showed what it had to show to make its point, and then carried on with the story. As someone who watches A LOT of horror films (from an academic standpoint I'm very interested in their relationship to gender, violence, and the human condition - but I also just find them to be a ton of fun), I can definitely appreciate the break from heavy gore and the sexualization of young girls. It's impressive to me when a horror film can stand on its own two feet, not wholeheartedly relying on conventions and special FX. Instead, Haunter relies on a strong story, and an actress who can deliver it.

For a more cynical opinion, you can check out this review by Simon Abrams on Roger Ebert.com