“Haunter” (2013): Canadian Movie Mines Continue to Produce Horror Gold

Poster for HAUNTER (2013)

Poster for HAUNTER (2013) — image source: RogerEbert.com

Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, but lately I have run across a number of recent films from Canada that are quite impressive. Add Vincenzo Natali’s Haunter (2013) to that count. A supernatural mystery/thriller with plenty of horror elements, it stars Abigail Breslin as Lisa, a high school student whose life has been caught up in a twistedGroundhog Day that turns into her own version ofNightmare on Elm Street” (complete with her own personal Freddy).

These are cinematic references that have been noted by previous reviewers. Reviewing the SXSW premiere of this movie, John DeFore of the Hollywood Reporter likened Lisa’s predicament to being “stuck in a Groundhog Day-like loop — not only living the same 1985 day over and over, but doing so stuck with her family on a day so foggy no one leaves the house.” Henry Stewart of The L Magazine called the film an “inventively structured and very Elm Street-esque horror movie is one of the few haunted-house pictures told from the point of view of the ghosts.”

In fact, the story-line that unfolds when Lisa “wakes up” from this short-circuit in time (which is the day before her sixteenth birthday) evokes memories of other haunted-house movies. The Guardian’s reviewer was reminded of  The Amityville Horror (1979), The Shining (1980) and The Others (2001), but used these associations to label the film “too derivative.”

I disagree. While this film does its work in the haunted-house subgenre, it does so with originality. The story, written by Brian King (based on his own novel), both turns the traditional haunted-house story inside out by making the protagonists the haunters, and also uses an antagonist, the “Pale Man” (Stephen McHattie), who is himself dead but who started his serial murder spree while alive. The entire battle is waged in the spirit world and is fought over the Freddy-like Pale Man’s compulsion to continue to possess living fathers whom he then uses to kill more familes. All of his victims end up in their own time-loop afterlife experiences, like Lisa and her family. This leads to a trans-historical plot that allows Lisa to move back and forth across time as she tries to solve the mystery of her predicament.

Stephen McHattie as the Pale Man in HAUNTER (2013)

Stephen McHattie as the Pale Man in HAUNTER (2013) — image source: Electric Shadows

Along with Lisa, the viewer gradually figures out how the Pale Man’s trap works and how she can break herself, her family, and others free from his spell. Although director Natali works with some standard conventions to do so, he executes them with his own sense of style rather than merely duplicating previous directors’ set-ups, camera techniques, and special effects. The resulting suspense is strong enough that several of the jump scares did indeed cause me to jump. My favorite device, however, is the use of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” both as a link between Lisa and the Pale Man’s next victim and as a story that is analogous to the plot of the film.

Pale Man to Lisa: "I always did love killing you"

Pale Man to Lisa: “I always did love killing you” — image source: Diabolique Magazine

Several other trailers for IFC films that were on the DVD for Haunter look very good as well. Some of these have been favorably reviewed by other movie bloggers whom I follow. They include Contracted (2013), Devil’s Pass (2013), Dark Touch (2013), and Berberian Sound Studio (2012). I will be watching and writing about these movies in the near future.

Horror is in the eye of the beholder

Horror is in the eye of the beholder — image source: Movieman’s Guide to the Movies

FRISCO KID’s Rating: 4 stars