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.



Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.