Director Vincenzo Natali is primarily known for his indie sci-fi pictures. His latest feature, Haunter, is curiously lighter in touch and tone, despite the subject and themes at play, but does very much share a link, if we're looking at it from an auteurist viewpoint, to the metaphysical and surrealist aspects of his little-seen 2003 movie, Nothing, as well as the claustrophobic nightmare, Cube (1997).Haunter is told from a teenager girl's point-of-view. The vibe is akin to an episode of The Twilight Zone cut with a distinct YA flavour. It certainly is not a typical milieu for Natali to explore. Haunter, however, is very much in keeping with the Canadian director's thematic preoccupations with architectural space and puzzles fused to paranoid/nightmare narratives. It’s just been given a coat of mainstream gloss and a likeable lead character.
Abigail Breslin stars as Lisa, a teenager about to hit sixteen and going through the daily routines and rituals of family life. The middle class ordinariness, however, is slightly offset by a Groundhog Day-like atmosphere and sense of repetition to each days' events. The initial setup is almost satirical: everyday feels exactly the same in the suburbs. But it soon edges away from such a comic observation as the main plot unfolds, a murder mystery, and one that Lisa - guided by rebellious insistence and despite threats by a terrifying individual who crops up repeatedly to tell her to keep her sticky beak to herself - is compelled to solve.
Lisa must also battle with her parents – through what look very much like traditional teenage acts of defiance – in order for them to pay attention to what is really happening in their lives. It’s a comic subversion of the familiar 'It's not fair!' cri-de-coeur and accompanying door-slamming.
Breslin is fantastic as the plucky ghost-girl, who must act to save her family from the bullying designs of a 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 allow Lisa to experience different time periods and the lives of others within the same location/house.
On first look, one could level a charge at Haunter for being a tad unadventurous – all from a director who has earned his credentials from portrayals of the dark, the disturbing, the schizoid. The film’s main problems derive from Brian King’s screenplay that purloins, rather liberally, from other horror titles – Beetlejuice and The Others immediately spring to mind. And the ending’s sentiment is too syrupy sweet when considering the subversive angles and elements found elsewhere, particularly in that exciting and spooky first act.