What I'm Watching: Haunter
Well, this is not what I planned to review today, but whoops, Netflix pulled The Town that Dreaded Sundown sequelish thing just as I was going to sit down and finally watch that.
So, instead you get me reviewing Haunter, starring Abigail Breslin. I can work with this. Breslimon, I choose you! ... Haunter, it's...is a pokem...oh, nevermind, on with the review.
The plot centers around Lisa, played by Breslin, going through her day and becoming increasingly frustrated with her family, and it's not long before the movie reveals that she's done this before, very possibly many, many times before. It's pretty clear from the start of the movie that they want us to think this family is dead, trapped in their house, repeating the same day over and over again, except Lisa is the only one that remembers she's stuck in Groundhog Day Hell.
Or at least that's what Lisa thinks is going on.
Things could have easily gotten tedious by the movie showing various recursions with slightly altered variations to get across that Something Is Wrong, but instead cuts to the chase and just has Lisa tell us that's what's going on, and immediately starts shaking things up with the second go around through the same day. I appreciate getting right to the point. If Lisa is frustrated by doing this over and over, and tells us she's done this over and over, we don't need to see it too many times. We immediately get it, thanks to Breslin's performance.
And of course once the routine starts being broken, and goes more and more off script, Lisa becomes increasingly freaked out as to what is going on. And it's not helped by seeing strange things. And when a GHOST is seeing strange things, you know things are messed up.
It's really interesting to take a haunted house story and turn all the expectations on their head. For most of the movie, I had no idea which way things were going to go. It seems like they're dead and ghosts, but then that doesn't seem quite right, and you're right there with Lisa and her confusion. Plus, it does this idea better than The Others did it... Also, even if you accept that they're ghosts, you then have the question of WHY the day is recurring, why Lisa is the only one that remembers, what's going on...they found a way to make a murder mystery from the PoV of the ghosts. That's brilliant.
I've long been a fan of Vincenzo Natali, going back to Splice, and he has vision. His movies may not set the world on fire, but they are always enjoyable, and Haunter is no exception. Beyond just having a solid story, Natali uses some great storytelling devices and recurring motifs, such as reflections, eyes, and doors that should not and yet must be opened. They may not be the most original motifs, and they may be used in the fashions you'd expect, but they're still used very well, and with everything else in the story, it feels refreshing. There's also a lot of nice things here about cycles repeating themselves, and recurring echoes through history. One of my favourite little nods to the nature of the movie, is Lisa's shirt being of Sousxie and the Banshees. The Banshee being a harbinger of death, and a great, lesser used symbol that fits in well with Lisa's style and character.
I love that it's a period piece, and still told through different time periods, with pitch perfect fashions, and redesigning the house for the various eras, as the story unfolds and we delve into the future and the past to solve the mystery. It wraps around every time period this house has existed in. There really is nothing quite like this out there. It's a little bit Beetlejuice, with a dash of Groundhog Day, mixed with a murder mystery and ghost stories.
And oh my gods, this is actually A HORROR MOVIE WITH A HAPPY ENDING. Mild spoilers, but I had forgotten what it was like for a horror movie to have a definitive, non-ambiguous ending, where the characters end up happy, and Lisa even gets her just reward for a job well done and stopping the monster, even though she's *already dead*. But just having a definitive happy ending in this sort of a movie, with a main character who is a ghost is just...that doesn't happen! It makes me love this movie all the more.
This was a surprise movie for me. I grabbed it because I needed to watch SOMEthing, it had some familiar cast members from all over the place, and with it's truly unique story, great style from Natali, and an amazing pair of performances from Breslin and Stephen McHattie as the villain of our story, it brought a lot to the table that I was not expecting. You've probably never heard of it, but Haunter is definitely worth seeking out. It won't change the world, but it was just a little bit great. I am such a sucker for anything that takes common tropes and twists them around like this.
(And just a quick 'programming' note, even though I've been on a roll with new What I'm Watching reviews, there will NOT be a new one tomorrow. I'm not giving up, that's just when the new big main review goes live, and I want the site to be focused on that!)