With its generic title and lack of theatrical release, I assumed Haunter was going to be terrible. It turns out that Director Vincenzo Natali's (Cube, Splice) latest film is halfway decent, and I mean that literally. The first half of Haunter is an interesting take on Groundhog Day, as Abigail Breslin realizes she is living the day before her sixteenth birthday over and over again. A nefarious man appears out of the fog surrounding her home and warns her to keep her head down. This first half is mysterious, with a few decent spooks, but Haunter quickly unravels in the back half due to its underdeveloped script.
Nearly sixteen-year-old Lisa (Breslin) rouses each day to the same walkie-talkie squawk from her little brother; the same load of laundry to do; the same Ronald Reagan speech on TV; and the same meatloaf dinner in the evening. Haunter throws its audience into the story without explanation, forcing them to follow along as Lisa challenges her mom to remember the details of any other day. This works well, and I was instantly hooked. The family car is - again - broken and parked in the garage. No car and a thick fog outside equals cabin fever for Lisa and her family. After she discovers a small red door in the basement, Lisa begins sensing the presence of another girl who needs help. The film is a "Twilight Zone"/haunted house mash-up, and the final concoction would have gone down smoother had Matthew Brian King's script finished as strong as it starts.
The life-in-limbo gimmick is actually a neat trick, and Natali inserts a number of differences - some subtle, some glaring - into the seemingly repetitious action for the audience's viewing pleasure. The underlying cause of Lisa's problem is not nearly as satisfying. I won't spoil the reveal, but it is much more pedestrian than the previous scenes. Stephen McHattie (Watchmen) shows up to torment Lisa as the Pale Man, and enters the house under the cloak of a telephone repair man. If only his motivations were as interesting as his Ray Bans.
I really wish this film didn't lose its nerve in the climax. For a straight-to-video project, Haunter is much better than expected. Breslin again proves a fine young actress, and she does a nice job selling the horror without overacting. Natali hasn't lost his shooting prowess, and Haunter sports some slick-looking shots and production design. I didn't love the flicker/shake effect during supernatural events, but the film has a number of effective, gore-less scares. This film likely won't find much of an audience, but it's a decent choice if you find it at Redbox.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image features strong fine-object detail and texture. Black levels are decent, and the subdued '80s color scheme is nicely saturated. The digital source is crisp and clean, and I noticed no video noise. I did spot a couple of strange instances of flicker, which I don't think are inherent in the source, and an odd color shift in one shot that may be intentional. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix replicates the bumps and jolts of the effectively spooky sound design. Dialogue, effects and score are balanced appropriately, with the more action-oriented effects spilling into the surrounds and rumbling the subwoofer. There is also a 2.0 LPCM lossless mix, and English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
The disc is rather stacked in the extras department. There are two commentaries: The first, from Director Vincenzo Natali, is quite interesting, and Natali reveals how he stretched his thin budget to create a polished film. The track from Writer Matthew Brian King sees the screenplay author admit that some of his ideas didn't quite work. You also get a decent making-of, Behind the Scenes (20:42/HD); Haunter: The Complete Storyboards by Vincenzo Natali (54:50/HD); a Teaser Poster; and the film's Trailer (1:45/HD).
Haunter is an almost-successful thriller with Abigail Breslin as a teenager haunted by visions of a girl in peril. The film's Groundhog Day gimmick is actually quite clever, but things do downhill as the film nears its unsatisfying conclusion. The replay value is limited, but fans of director Vincenzo Natali will want to check out Haunter. Rent It.