At the risk of issuing an imposingly pretentious statement, I’d always felt that Cube (1997) was one of the best science-fiction films of the last twenty years. When I rented the VHS on the now defunct Mosaic label at the end of the last century I was determined to track the career of Vincenzo Natali to see what this Detroit native would do next. Sequels to Cube followed, but Natali went in a different direction with the impressive espionage orientated sci-fi Cypher (2002). Nothing (2003) followed a year later, and is still to receive UK distribution while the ambitious Splice (2009) surfaced some six years later albeit without the heightened acclaim that accompanied his first two films.
Now Natali turns his hand to the horror genre with Haunter, a twisting mystery with a script written by Brian King (Cypher). Lisa Johnson (Breslin) is in limbo. It’s 1986 and she’s been living the same day over and over for quite some time. She and her family were killed in mysterious circumstances, and ever since this tragic event they have been stuck in a cycle of repetition. Lisa is aware of this, but her family they seem totally oblivious to this Groundhog Day scenario. Each day they all remain trapped within the fog cloaked confines of their home, robotically acting out the same chores and activities of the previous 24 hours.
Lisa’s despair at this never-ending purgatory is palpable, but just when she feels there’s no solution to it, some strange supernatural occurrences begin to take place. A whispered voice, a mysterious phone call, some creaking floor boards – signs that perhaps her family aren’t alone. As Lisa delves into these paranormal events, she discovers that they may not be the evil entity that she first thought. On the contrary, what she finds could well be the answer to her nightmares and provide her with the key to escape from this interminable hell.
An important aspect to Haunter is undoubtedly its quality. It has a very capable lead actress in Abigail Breslin who delivers a brilliant performance as Lisa, while the look of the film is first rate as it uses every aspect of this secret-laden house to realise its full eerie potential. With the narrative lying firmly within the mystery genre it’s great to see that King’s script has the assurance to navigate all the various developments with aplomb.
The storyline is a little intricate at times, but not to the degree that would leave the viewer feeling isolated. Natali handles the pacing well, and by the end of the movie you’re left in no doubt over the path that you’ve been taken on. It’s a feeling of relief to see a film like this come along as many genre pictures this year have seemed so dumbed down, almost treating us with contempt. With Haunter though we have a well-made horror film, both scary and atmospheric that treats the audience with respect, and it only seems fair to repay that by giving it the plaudits that it deserves.