A tightly wound slow-burn ghost story that blends the best elements of the genre.
Typical teenager Lisa (Abigail Breslin) has begun to realize that today was yesterday, not to mention she’s also hearing voices. After failing to convince her parents that their lives are on a twenty-four hour infinite loop, a pale man (Stephen McHattie) arrives in the guise of a repairman, but death is his eyes. He tells Lisa that she should ignore the voices, threatening her family if she continues trying to convince them of the truth or should she attempt to contact the living. Reeling from confirmation that she and her family are indeed dead, Lisa begins to uncover the clues not only to her own death but a history of violence going back decades – and the Pale Man isn’t done yet.
There is a degree of merit comparing Haunter to a paranormal Groundhog’s Day mixed in with a healthy dose of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but Haunter sets itself apart with a meticulous script that redefines Purgatory and one-ups the protagonists of The Others. A variety of practical effects keeps the story grounded, serving the plot while creating a rich mythology within a short time, small location and on an economic film budget. The creepy atmosphere oozes from the screen, rewarding faithful watchers with a satisfying conclusion and very few missteps to speak of.
Packing in a plot that could fill up the next season of “American Horror Story,” the story follows a lost girl who awakens to a terrifying reality before pitting her against a seemingly undefeatable foe. Abigail Breslin channels the appearance and talent of a young Kirsten Dunst, convincingly carrying the story and conveying the dread of her situation. Stephen McHattie owns his role as the Pale Man, packing plenty of presence into a soft-spoken yet undeniably evil entity. This film is unrated but could have certainly held its own in theaters with a little positive word of mouth. While the main character’s motivations are clear, the villain’s purpose is barely glimpsed; while it doesn’t take away from the story, it’s too bad more of an explanation couldn’t have been worked in.
Without giving too much away, there are a few clever techniques used to show specific time periods for what we’ll just call “flashbacks” for now. Some of these time period shifts are very effective – a key factor in unfolding the plot – while at least one felt a bit cheesy using and old-time film technique that hurt the overall effect. The story doesn’t start with a bang but rather opens with a wimper, dulling the senses with the mundane until the true purpose is revealed and the film revs into high gear. Not every film needs to open and close with an explosion, and this one is better served in the imagination as to the impact of it all. There is a hint of a sequel, but how it might unfold is a different matter entirely; that said, if director Vincenzo Natali and writer Brian King are helming it, it would be definitely worth a look.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)