I’ll never forget the day I watched Vincenzo Natali’s Cube on a rented VHS in 1998. There was something so mind-blowing to sixteen-year-old me about a film that seemed unlike anything I’d ever seen. Since then, I’ve been waiting for Natali to capture that same unique spirit with his bigger budget works. I’d heard intriguing things about his recent haunted house (OR IS IT?) tale Haunter, so let’s see what Instant Watch wrought.
Quick Plot: Lisa (Abigail Breslin) is a grumpy young suburbanite going through the motions on the eve of her 16th birthday. How ANY teenager can be grumpy when such a day includes macaroni and cheese AND Murder, She Wrote is truly beyond me.
Seriously, Mr. Natali. You should thank your Cube cred that I didn't turn off your little movie the moment a character failed to express enthusiasm at sitting down to watch Jessica Fletcher visit one of her six hundred godchildren and solve a homicide committed by a character actor or TV personality.
Anyway, we can forgive Lisa once we learn the source of her misery: she's been Groundhog Daying this uneventful Sunday for an interminable amount of time. Each time, her little brother plays Pacman with his imaginary friend, Mom hounds her about missing clothes in the laundry, and Dad attempts to repair the family car at varying levels of hostility.
But it always ends with mac 'n cheese and Angela Lansbury's delightful laugh.
It doesn't take long for Lisa to realize that, much like the twist ending of 98% of all modern horror films, she's actually dead. This is confirmed when a mysterious telephone operator in the form of Grant Mazzie (er, Stephen McHattie) visits with an ominous warning about what will happen if she tries to contact the living, something that proves easier than she thought via a few strategically placed pieces of jewelry.
There are a lot of ways to tell a story like Haunter, and while much of the film does work, I also found myself wishing Natali had chosen a different approach. Much like Drag Me To Hell, Haunter sort of falls into a category I like to call 'slumber party horror.' This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as sometimes, a tame but effective little ghost tale is perfectly fine entertainment.
And you know what? Haunter is...perfectly fine. The performances are strong, and the script keeps the character interactions quite natural. Like the recent House Hunting, the premise of being trapped in the same remote suburban setting is interesting and executed well. The problem for non-teenage viewers, at least for me, is that once you meet the big bad, the film's PG13 feeling becomes an issue.
Most serial killers are, one would imagine, pretty monstrous people. Those who target young women have an added ick factor. Those who slaughter entire families throughout five decades should be truly horrifying. And those played by Stephen McHattie and a dandy imaginary friend should be the WORST.
But, how to say this? There's something a tad anticlimactic about a man who kills his victims in what might possibly be the most peaceful way possible.
Hey, remember in The Wedding Singer when it was the 1980s and you knew that because characters were constantly pointing out every cultural reference that happened in the 1980s? Yeah, Haunter doesn't do that. Thankfully
I guess I just like my sadistic murderers a little more sadistic
Imaginary friends are never REALLY your friends
Ghosts are extremely fast adapters to today's Apple technology
If you’re going to relieve one day for all eternity, you might as well make sure said day includes mac ‘n cheese and Murder, She Wrote
If and when you’re in the mood for a good, if light little horror film, queue up Haunter on Instant Watch. It’s solid, if a tad restrained.
I guess what I’m saying is that Haunter is fine, just not as fine as Murder, She Wrote.
Like most things in the world.