FrightFest 2013 Review: Haunter

by Martyn Conterio on 27/08/2013


Director Vincenzo Natali is primarily known for dark and inventive sci-fi fare. His latest feature, Haunter, is curiously lighter in touch and tone, but it does share a link to the metaphysical and surrealist aspects of his little-seen 2003 picture, Nothing, and the claustrophobic scenario of Cube (1997).

Abigail Breslin stars as Lisa, a teenager about to hit sixteen and going through the daily routines and rituals of family life. The domestic ordinariness is beguiling, however, because something isn’t quite right. Haunter might appear to boast a satirical setup (each day feels exactly the same in the suburbs) but it soon edges away from such an overly comic proposition as a murder mystery is revealed that Lisa – guided by rebellious insistence and despite warning – is compelled to solve.

Natali’s latest is a supernatural drama told from a dead teenager’s point of view. Lisa must force her parents – through acts of defiance – to pay attention to what is happening in their lives. It’s a comic subversion of everyday teenage travails. On first look, one could level a charge at Haunter for seeming a tad unadventurous – all from a director who has earned his credentials from portrayals of the dark and disturbing. But Haunter is very much in keeping with the Canadian auteur’s thematic preoccupations with architectural space and puzzles fused to paranoid/nightmare narratives. It’s just been given a more appealing mainstream gloss.

Breslin is fantastic as the plucky ghost-girl, who must act to save her family from the bullying designs of wicked entity – known as The Pale Man – played with creepy relish by Stephen McHattie. Natali has fun, too, with the multi-layered approach to the world of ghosts and planes of existence that allows Lisa to experience different time periods and the lives of others within the house.

The film’s problems derive from Brian King’s screenplay that purloins, rather liberally, from other horror titles – Beetlejuice and The Others will immediately spring to mind. And the ending’s sentiment is very treacly when considering the subversive angles and elements found elsewhere, particularly in the first act. Yet Haunter is an effective paranormal thriller and a work that fits neatly enough into Natali’s oeuvre.

Martyn has awarded Haunter four Torches of Truth


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