Sunday, April 13, 2014

Horror Film Review

Haunter (2013):  Between Zombieland and Signs, Abigail Breslin has an impressive pedigree when it comes to original horror.  This offering, however, is a mash-up of other films.  It's part Groundhog Day, part Insidious, part The Conjuring, part The Others, and part The Amityville Horror.  Should be a masterpiece then, right?; but the ever-groovy Stephen McHattie plays the baddie, so it certainly doesn't suck.

It's 1985 and Lisa (Breslin) awakens every morning to the same day.  Brother Robbie (Peter DaCunha), dad Bruce (Peter Outerbridge), and mom Carol (Michelle Nolden) are oblivious.  Impenetrable fog enshrouds the house.  The phone is out.  The station wagon won't run.  Each night is meat loaf and Murder She Wrote.  Everything changes when Lisa begins hearing voices and seeing shadows.  She finds a hidden door in the basement which leads to a subterranean hidey-hole complete with jars of personal items (rings, watches, etc.) and a massive crematorium.  She also discovers a scrapbook of newspaper articles detailing 30 years worth of missing girls.  Her snooping results in a visit from a telephone repairman (McHattie) who tells Lisa to knock off the snooping or else.  Turns out the voices are from Oliva (Eleanor Zichy), a teenager from 2013 who's been trying to contact Lisa (who, of course, is dead) for help.  Olivia's normally nice dad's gone psycho and she fears for her family's safety.  Since Lisa's family and many others died in the house under similar circumstances, Olivia figures Lisa's trapped spirit can do something on her end.  Yeah, seemed like a stretch to me, too.  More of a stretch is when Lisa swaps bodies with Olivia. 

McHattie, of course, is the spirit of Edgar, the serial killer who's trapped Lisa's family and keeps possessing fathers and forcing them to murder their wives and children.  We are shown Edgar as a child (David Knoll) killing his parents but his motivations are not explained.  Is he simply nuts or are demonic forces involved?  Dunno.  Anyway, in the end, Lisa begs all of Edgar's victims to "wake up" and help her stop him for good.  She's like a dead Norman Rae. 

This film is way more complicated than it needed to be.  I wish I could expand on that, but it wouldn't make any sense if you haven't seen it.  It's like with superhero movie sequels.  They always add more supervillains and convoluted themes thinking more is better.  That rarely works.  Haunter tries to incorporate plot devices from at least six other films instead of focusing on just one and building around it. 

The Skinny

Acting:  McHattie, who you know from films like Pontypool, brings his usual A game.  Breslin crawls close to the ham line but does not cross it.  She does all right.  I particularly enjoyed Outerfield's performance as Lisa's father.
Story:  Overly complex conglomeration of tried and true supernatural plots. 
Direction:  Well executed despite the narrative challenges. 
Production Values:  I have no budget information, but it was made in Canada with Canadian government money so it looks anything other than cheap. 
Gore/FX:  No blood whatsoever.  A bit of CGI here and there. 
Scares:  One or two that will test your bladder control.
Ending:  Not horrifying at all.
Verdict:  Should you see Haunter?  As far as haunted house flicks go, I've seen worse.  And though I wouldn't label it as wholesome family entertainment, it's about as close as a horror film can get. 

Rating:  3 out of 5

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