Warning, spoilers ahead: Vincenzo Natali, the visionary director who gave us Cube and Splice, is back with Haunter. Abigail Breslin (Signs, Zombieland) stars as Lisa, a teenage girl in the 1980s who’s bored with her everyday life. It’s a densely foggy day, with no sign of the neighborhood out the windows, and when she does the wash, Lisa hears strange sounds in the basement, and while she’s playing her clarinet, Lisa also hears someone else playing along with her. Lisa senses there’s someone, or something else in the house she shares with her family. But that night, she ignores it so she can go to sleep–only to wake up the following morning to relive the entire day once more.
Those of you thinking this is yet another take on Groundhog Day will be relieved to know that Natali has far more in store than that. Haunter is a haunted house story that’s told from the ghost’s point of view, and while it uses some of the same trappings as other films with a similar twist on the haunted house, Natali kicks things into high speed as Lisa finds herself battling a supernatural villain known as The Pale Man. Played to creepy perfection by Stephen McHattie, The Pale Man emerges as one of the better horror movie villains in the last ten years.
The Pale Man began life as a serial killer, stalking young women and then killing them in his house. Yet even after his death, he not only manages to resume his killing spree, but he uses his supernatural powers to enlarge his scope by slaughtering entire families. Lisa is determined to stop him before he strikes again–he’s got a new, unsuspecting family in his crosshairs–and thus begins a cat and mouse battle between these two characters, both played by superb actors, that’s enthralling to watch. Breslin is great in her leading role, but McHattie has never been better.
Stephen McHattie is a great character actor who’s been in everything, bouncing back and forth from features to TV (he played The Rev in the second season of Haven). In some scenes, Natali expertly films McHattie so that he comes off looking like a smarmy reptile. In addition to having many genuinely scary moments, Haunter is also a nuanced mystery that un-peels layer after layer as Lisa digs deeper into the true story. This is a good one; a great horror film that can be enjoyed with a group at a Halloween get-together, or on any dark night when you feel like exploring the haunted house story from a completely different angle. Highly recommended. –SF