Cast: Abigail Breslin, Stephen McHattie, Michelle Nolden, Peter Outerbridge, Peter DaCunha
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 97mins
The lowdown: Cube and Splice director Vincenzo Natali ditches sci-fi for this beautifully mounted more traditional ghost story, but retains the otherworldly weirdness of his earlier films. Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine herself, is excellent as a girl realising something is very wrong in her fog-enshrouded house. A big reveal most movies save for the climax is let out early on, allowing the film to move into more interesting territory. Forget Twilight and its clones, this is horror Twihards should be watching.
The full verdict: Pre-rewrites, Groundhog Day’s original script began with Phil Connors already living the same day over and over.
Haunter adopts this same idea and runs with it, Breslin’s Lisa fully aware she is stuck in a loop on the day before her 16th birthday in deepest, darkest 1985.
Lisa also knows she, her parents and her younger brother are all dead, a plot element revealed soon into the running time. But why does the rest of her family not realise their predicament? And from where are those spooky voices emanating?
And who is the mysterious, clearly malevolent stranger warning Lisa against being a “busy Betty” and prying too much?
In these days post-The Others and The Sixth Sense when filmgoers are wise to massive twists, Haunter is wise to reveal major plot information early and succeeds in convincing that death is no escape from peril.
Ambitious time flips back and forth piece together the mystery of why Lisa’s family is behaving so oddly (her nice guy dad developing a taste for cigarettes and domestic abuse) and why her brother’s imaginary friend Edgar keeps appearing and vanishing.
Ripe with subtext, the film delights in employing Freudian imagery (a cavernous, threatening house, symbolic keys and keyholes) and can be read as an adolescent girl’s frustration at mundane domesticity as well as her fear of entering the big bad world.
Carefully balancing appealing melancholy with genuine scares, Natali and writer Brian King know when to play a plot point for laughs and when to twist it into something darker (see the missing clothes Lisa’s mum repeatedly chastises her for).
Period details are more than set-dressing, particularly in a stunning sequence when Lisa discovers herself in the 21st century and, as she quizzically hovers over an iPad, you realise how long ago 1985 was.
Not explaining the rules of its world does knock Haunter down a notch, audiences being unable to actively join in and solve the mystery, while Lisa is privy to plot information beyond what we or she have seen.
But, this is a minor gripe in a film that echoes the cult brilliance of the 1988 gem Paperhouse and features fantastic turns from Stephen McHattie as the ominous stranger, and Nolden, Outerbridge and DaCunha as Lisa’s mum, dad and brother.
Also refreshing is that the teen heroine remains a role-model character to the end, facing (im)mortal danger to save the day and not requiring a sullen, gel-haired pin-up to protect her.
Move over Bella Swan – there’s a new girl in town.