Skip to main content

You’re a busy Betty, and I don’t like busy Bettys!

Haunter
(2013)

(SPOILERS) Haunter is nothing if not derivative, but frequently not of other horror movies. Which means it isn’t a hugely scary movie, so it’s unlikely to be clutched to the bosoms of aficionados of the genre. It’s also unlikely to be sought out by those who aren’t that partial to horror movies, as it sells itself as another teen horror flick. A medley of Groundhog Day, The Sixth Sense, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Ghost, Vincenzo Natali’s picture has enough inventiveness to escape becoming just another formulaic frightener.


The most refreshing part of Haunter is that it doesn’t make a meal of its twist premise. Of course, it’s only a twist if you don’t know about it in advance (Netflix apparently gives the game away in it’s movie description). We’ve seen more than enough pictures, post-Shyamalan, that have made themselves all about the reveal. This creates a top-heavy construction, guiding the audience by way of anticipation that is rarely satisfied. Here, we’re told in the first few minutes that Lisa (Abigail Breslin, all Goth eyeliner and Siouxsie and the Banshees t-shirts) is experiencing every day over and over again. It's a waking nightmare where she must watch Murder, She Wrote again and again and again. Any questions that arise over why she hasn’t done more to test the limits of her situation are answered when it is made clear she has only been in this self-aware state for a week.


Her relationship with her blissfully unaware parents, Bruce (Peter Outerbridge) and Carol (Michelle Nolden) is a neat variation on the troubled petulant teen; they refuse to entertain her problems, yet she is not inventing or exaggerating them to attract attention. Perhaps she should have been clued up much sooner that the imaginary friend of her little brother Robbie (Peter DaCunha) isn’t a figment of the mind, so in this at least it yields to the horror’s reliance on idiot protagonists.


Lisa is trapped within her home, a sea of fog permeating outside, and only she is aware that disturbing events are taking place there (objects moving of their own accord, ghostly presences). Natali is having fun, overlaying Peter and the Wolf as a signature on the soundtrack, but he’s slightly less proficient when it comes to conjuring the 1985 setting. The artefacts are there (video tapes, pop group posters, Pacman) but the cinematography really needed to go the extra mile; digital makes it a little too immediate.


Lisa’s attempts to contact the unknown forces via Ouija board trigger the reveal that she’s dead. Soon after, her parents stop repeating the day by rote, most notably as dad takes up smoking at the dinner table (“That’s not part of the routine”) and then descends into the mode of raging psycho (Outerbridge’s performance is outstanding, note-perfectly essaying the change from caring father to demented loon). Then the mysterious Pale Man (the legendary Stephen McHattie, the guy you get if you can’t get Lance Henrikson) pays a call and warns her to stop rocking the boat, or house. Natali keeps the audience guessing during this passage, and it reminded me a little of Christopher Smith’s elusive Triangle.


True, the Pale Man is your bog standard serial killer, complete with a ready line in archaic phrases (“You’re a busy Betty”) that wouldn’t sound out of place in Misery. But, to be fair, this is part of the picture’s time-jumping design, with a 1950s milieu lurking beneath the surface. His ghost was the former resident of the property (dying the year before the family moved in) and he is modus operandi is to lure more dwellers to their deaths.


Fairly familiar sounding, but McHattie’s drawn, menacing presence adds flavour to the scenario. More than that, the shuffling time periods furnish an effective extra layer to his sub-Krueger antics. This allows for intriguing variations on mysteries under the floorboards and nasties lurking in the cellar. Lisa is able to jump forward to 2013, into the body of the teenage girl intended as one the Pale Man’s latest victims, and so prevent history repeating. Her father is enacting the same Pale Man-guided routine that caused Bruce to kill his family (another striking reveal).


Natali was quiet for a few years prior to Haunter. His previous picture, Splice, was a divisive affair, an potent take on “scientist plays God” Frankenstein tales, but with an icky incestuous twist. Cypher, which shares Haunter screenwriter Brian King, fell into the previously mentioned category, a twist movie whose reveal didn’t quite support the groundwork laid. Natali’s first feature Cube illustrated his fondness for puzzle boxes, as a means of character self-realisation, which Haunter continues. For some reason he hasn’t quite attained the next level of success, perhaps because he likes to do his own thing (this may be a reason he can currently be found earning a crust and adding style to the overrated Hannibal), as does one of his heroes Terry Gilliam (Natali can’t claim to be quite so distinctive).


The finale works thematically, and Natali stages it efficiently, but it does feel like it's gone down the genre staple route (protagonist returns to face the monster alone). The most surprising part of Haunter is its unabashed happy ending. Lisa is reunited with her family in the afterlife, having defeating the Pale Man during a so-so showdown.  Sure, Natali adds McHattie calling Lisa over the credits, but that was probably a producer’s stipulation in case it did enough business to warrant a moribund sequel. It will be a shame if Natali’s career lingers in development hell (adaptations of High Rise and Swamp Thing). Haunter is one of the better haunted household movies of late, economically told while favouring narrative twists and turns over shock tactics.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.

Yes, cake is my weakness.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
(SPOILERS) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is good fun, and sometimes, that’s enough. It doesn’t break any new ground, and the establishing act is considerably better than the rather rote plotting and character development that follows, but Jake Kasdan’s semi-sequel more than justifies the decision to return to the stomping ground of the tepid 1995 original, a movie sold on its pixels, and is comfortably able to coast on the selling point of hormonal teenagers embodying grown adults.

This is by some distance Kasdan’s biggest movie, and he benefits considerably from Gyula Pados’s cinematography. Kasdan isn’t, I’d suggest, a natural with action set pieces, and the best sequences are clearly prevized ones he’d have little control over (a helicopter chase, most notably). I’m guessing Pados was brought aboard because of his work on Predators and the Maze Runners (although not the lusher first movie), and he lends the picture a suitably verdant veneer. Wh…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …