Monday, March 17, 2014

Haunter (2013)

Not willing to come down from my recent high with the striking I Am a Ghost, I've been pining for more movies that take this fresh approach to the haunted-house plot. As it turns out, Haunter, which premiered at SXSW last year (a year after I Am a Ghost made its festival rounds), is very much the movie I was looking for--and here I've been skipping it on Netflix Instant for a while. It has the same premise and many similar parallels to Mendoza's film, but the execution is very different; and we get to see much more of the mystery surrounding the hooks of the opening act. I don't view Haunter as the superior film (others will), but it is definitely a welcome and effective effort that makes it stand out among the sea of dross out there.

The perspective is not new, but it's always exciting. We all wonder what's on the other side of life, what happens after death. Therefore any story that offers us a perspective of a character already on that other side is inherently intriguing (how badly do you all want a sequel to Martyrs?). So intriguing for me, in fact, that I scarcely need read any more about a book or film to jump on it, as was the case with Haunter. Netflix had shoved the thumbnail in my face every day, but I never read anything about it until yesterday; and when I read that the main character is long dead I stopped reading mid-sentence and made it a priority for last night's movie time. The fresh twist that this film puts on the perspective, however, is that, (again like I Am a Ghost) the audience is informed of what would typically be the big reveal during the opening act. Compare that to a movie like The Others, where this perspective is used as the big reveal.

In another parallel to I Am a Ghost, Haunter sets the rhythm (a word chosen very deliberately) of the movie with a series of repeating events in which the characters are stuck. With more than one character, this movie has more clay with which to shape the constant intersection of Lisa's story (desperately seeking to uncover the mystery) and the other characters' repeating stories. And as Lisa's plot progresses, we get aberrations in the repeating events. Again, something I've seen many times, but which never seems to get old. I find this tactic very effective. As the mystery progresses and we begin to see patterns emerge that traverse the decades of the 50s through the present day, I couldn't help but nod my approval to the eye for detail in depicting these different time periods.The clothing, the speech, the music, the bedroom decor, and especially Lisa's confusion over how to start a video on an iPad are all great touches to give a sense of the timeline of the mysterious events lurking at the foundation of all the strange monotony.

(I must admit that I fell asleep last night around the 58-minute mark, but upon waking to female shrieks (on screen, I assure you), I quickly rewound the film to find where I'd left off, made note of it, and finished it on lunch break today. As a side note, a funny thing about resuming a horror movie is that it could cause your resumed session to begin with quite a jolt. For example, I prepared for finishing Haunter by shuttering all the windows and cranking my theater system up to ridiculous volumes, only to have it pick back up with musical stings and screaming that filled the house with calamity that prompted a fit from my dog!)

The movie inevitably has its little oversights and bouts of overly terse and theatrical dialogue. And while there aren't any major holes in the plot (that I could come up with; not that I was scanning for them, by any means), I did chuckle over a few more-amusing-than irritating slips. For example, Lisa shines a flashlight up into a well-lighted room. Obviously (as is witnessed in the movie), this is completely ineffective. (Reminds me of a guy who used to have a desk lamp that shone directly at his computer monitor, which is actually counter-effective.) But, again, this is minor; and when you really think about it, if you were in her frightening situation, you'd probably have the same natural reaction to shine your flashlight in whatever direction you're headed. Overall, though, I assure you the wealth of creativity will overshadow flaws.

One of my least favourite staples of the horror genre is the seemingly mandatory cat-and-mouse sequence that concludes the big reveal/epiphany in a movie like this. For some reason, this running through houses and woods and graveyards, etc. has always bored me to tears (or to sleep), and is usually capped off with an ending that assures me the writer(s) used up everything they had on the first two acts. Thankfully, Haunter doesn't draw its chase scenes out longer than absolutely necessary to set up a nicely executed ending that brings closure to the story and all of its many victims. This denouement also boasts a couple of hilarious lines from Lisa! 

Haunter provides an entertaining twist to a vein of supernatural/mystery horror that the first season of American Horror Story and the movie I Am a Ghost revived. If you've seen either or both of the aforementioned predecessors, don't worry; this flick still has something to offer you. If you haven't seen either, you will have a great time experiencing what good writing can do for a movie. The best line in the film is like something straight out of a Stephen King novel: "History doesn't repeat itself; it rhymes," delivered perfectly by Pontypool's Stephen McHattie (Pontypool being another well-written Canadian film that you need to see). At its core is the common message in almost every supernatural mystery: The sins of your past will come back to haunt you.

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