Monday, October 28, 2013


Thanks to the Red Sox' progress through the playoffs (and a little time under the weather), Haunter is extremely likely to be the only in the Somerville Theatre's "Boston Terror Thon" program I see outside the actual marathon. That's kind of a shame, because I would really like to support genre film festivals like this, although on the other hand, Haunter certainly seems like it was the best of the bunch. That's why I put Game 4 of the World Series on the DVR and experienced it an hour or two behind everybody else.

Hopefully the attendance has been good enough that the Somerville Theatre and Zoetrope Productions folks (who I believe are involved, although no mention was made of them at the events I attended) aren't too discouraged; It would be quite disappointing if this went the way of the Boston Fantastic Film Festival, which debuted in October 2004 with an impressive line-up but was not going to draw a lot of people from the Baseball Ragnarok of the ALCS. I occasionally imagine a parallel universe where the BFFF is the fall's big genre film event while Fantastic Fest is kind of nice if you can't get to the Brattle, but in that reality the Sox traded Nomar away for nothing and the drought is approaching a century, and that sounds terribly sad.

At any rate, this particular movie is fun. If you've seen it or don't mind being spoiled, come back after the eFilmCritic review for a little talk about the ending and themes where I sort of contradict some of my usual horror movie stances. Heck, watch it now; as of late October 2013, it's available to watch on Amazon.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Terror Thon, digital)

Haunter is the kind of horror movie that is in many ways so well-built that it almost gets in its own way when someone sees it, likes it, and wants to recommend it: The film has a hook that does its job of intriguing an audience as well as one might hope, but one of its early delights is just how nicely it reveals what's going on. It's good enough to not just be a gimmick movie, though, but quite the nifty ghost story.

It's a Sunday night in mid-1980s Ontario, the day before Lisa Johnson's sixteenth birthday, and Lisa (Abigail Breslin) has just started to realize that this has been the case for quite a while: Every day is a repetition of the one before, from her brother Robbie (Peter DaCunha) playing Pac-Man to her father Bruce (Peter Outerbridge) struggling to fix the car and her mother Carol (Michelle Nolden) asking about clothes missing from the laundry. The phone is out and the house is shrouded in fog, and when the routine breaks one day, it's so that a creepy-looking man (Stephen McHattie) can ask Lisa how long she's been awake and warn her not to rock the boat.

The basics of what's going on is pretty clear, if only from the name of the movie and how malicious poltergeists have by and large fallen out of favor compared to unknowing emotional scars on a location, but director Vincenzo Natali and writer Brian King let the movie get to roughly the half-hour mark before spelling it out. Both the lead to and follow from that moment are filled with nuggets that build the story and a mythology that seems reasonably common-sensical compared to many supernatural stories. It's a nice set-up, with just enough scale and complication to give Lisa something to worry about beside herself, and while the story gets a bit messy toward the end, it seldom falls into the trap many horror movies do where the scares seem randomly assembled. There is at least an emotional foundation to what's going on.

Full review at EFC.


So, everybody reading this knows that Lisa's a ghost, right? Well, you probably can get that from the previews and synopses, but I felt like being extra careful for some reason. This is going to be a less-spoilery discussion of the ending than usual, but I don't want to tick anybody off.

So, anyway, I'm usually a big how-things-work guy, and I do kind of like that Haunter is fairly clear on its mechanism - Olivia connects to Lisa, and Lisa to Frances, by touching something important to the dead (or more dead) girl. In fact, it's something that identifies her in both cases, although Natali and King don't necessarily make that distinction explicit (nor do they put much emphasis on the parallel situations being important, although maybe that's just a given). I think one of the movie's weaknesses is that this is a little bit more mechanical than need be; the scene I mention in the review that could be a little more rousing is Lisa going through Edgar's trophies casually. The idea of Lisa doing this to summon an army is right, and my disappointment is that it could have been given a lot more thematic and dramatic heft - imagine if she's doing this and reading off the names of the victims and what the trophy tells her about them, and each one arriving starts to do the same. It would become a rebuke to Lisa's feelings about being alone and forgotten.

The other thing about the story winding up relatively rule-based is that there's a neat coming-of-age theme that winds up getting somewhat buried or negated. There are a lot of mentions of it being Lisa's birthday the next day, and I initially thought that was important, that maybe Lisa woke up because she was a teenager: She isn't trusting the way her younger brother is, or settled down the way her parents are. Plus, being a teenager is inherently a transitional state, and maybe something in her recognizes that it's not supposed to last.

To a certain extent, that's still there, but I think it's diminished a bit. I think it also speaks to how difficult it is to make this sort of horror movie today; it's a more skeptical and well-informed time, and we naturally expect a certain amount of logic and consistency that people initially didn't need in their scary stories, but we also still want it either somewhat irrational or purely emotional. Haunter does a better job than a lot of movies, but in doing so it demonstrates just how difficult it can be to appeal to both hemispheres of the audience's collective brain.


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