Starring young Abigail Breslin, ( ZOMBIELAND), its the tale of a deceased young lady who attempts to reach out to the mortal realm in a bid to save the owners of the home she haunts from suffering a similar fate as her own.
Its a film that deems to transcend its genre trapping by way of being a thoughtful, and thought-provoking puzzle-piece, and at the same time, aims to be a universally accessible ghost story/mystery, (boasting a PG13 certificate, no less), that anyone can settle into with relative ease.
It saddens me to say, as a fan of Vincent Natali's previous works, (CUBE, GINGER SNAPS), that HAUNTER fails almost completely at the former and falls victim of the weakness' inherent in the latter.
It's by no means a terrible film. In fact, its at times an almost beautiful work, with some strong performances and an excellent setting. But all of its good intent is scuppered by its dazzlingly derivative nature. There's nothing wrong with paying homage to other cinematic works, but its a fine line between referencing and outright ripping off of another artists material, and HAUNTER stumbles over the line like a drunk come closing time. The influences, if we can call them that, are so upfront and so prescient to the plot and atmosphere of the film, that it quickly becomes an infuriating watch.
Let me give some examples, and I assure you I wont be spoiling anything that isn;t already written out loud and proud in the films synopsis
The film deals with the spirit of a young girl who continually wakes up on the same day, (signaled by an alarm clock), only to find that she and her family are trapped some sort of space-time continuum wherein her family are unaware of the day being reset each evening. As she attempts to understand why she's trapped in this day, she comes to learn that she can change the course of the day.
Yep, its GROUNDHOG DAY.
Not only that, but the family home appears cut off from the rest of the world by an impenetrable fog. And there are strange noises emanating from the dark corners of the once happy home. The twist is, of course, that the house ain't haunted by these 'others', but is haunted by the family themselves.
You see where I'm going with this?
Again, I'm not giving away anything. The girls recently deceased condition is clear from the outset, and in fairness, the film uses the plot of THE OTHERS as a jumping-off point for its own ideas, but the problem is that by the time the film gets round to exploring its own concepts, most of its audience will be bored or, as I was, pissed off by the sheer balls of the thing.
Given a little patience, there is a somewhat engaging mystery here. Personally, it managed to hold my attention most of the way through, but only barely. It could be that the films perceived target audience, (that of young teen girls looking for a gentle fright), may find it far more palatable that a grizzly old fuck like myself, but I'm not here to speculate on what kids may think of a horror film. I'm here to look at it as a 'horror film' in and of itself. And for me, this one misses the mark.
For the thinking adult, its gonna be a tough ride to the finish line with HAUNTER. It has no real scares and no real suspense. Of course, we can handle the lack of gore, as THE CONJURING proved last year that a PG13 need not be an indicator of the films fear-factor or intensity; it's just that where that film twisted genre-tropes into suprememly effective new shapes, HAUNTER takes far, far better films and attempts to filter them through an overly-simplified lens.
On the happy clappy side of things, it does boast some neat performances; namely those of veteran actors Stephen McHattie and David Hewlit as respectively, a mysterious repairman who may hold the key to the families predicament, and as the long-suffering, dangerously unhinged daddy of our heroine.
Breslin does reasonably well with a pretty dull script, and is likable an relate-able enough to suggest she may have a promising career ahead of her. She's fine, but she's not yet quite up to carrying a film on her little lonesome. Luckily the supporters, and the films lovely cinematography, help ease the audience around any missteps by the young actress.
Also fun is the films 80's setting, which although practically irrelevant to the plot, is a nice little aside for the older audience members. It's a welcome little addition, to be sure.
To summarize...if your a long-suffering parent looking for a tame horror that'll keep the kids happy on Halloween, then HAUNTER could arguably suffice, but I'd circle this wagon with some real trepidation. Its really not worth your time, and I'd argue that even from the perspective of a young audience, it really hasn't got the chops to hold the attention.
A sad disappointment from a director with an impressive resume. Better luck next time.
3.5 Source Codes out of 10