★ / ★★★★
Lisa (Abigail Breslin) and her family (Peter Outerbridge, Michelle Nolden, Peter DaCunha) are living in a loop: as each day wraps up, it begins on the day before Lisa’s sixteenth birthday. There are details that remain constant: laundry having to be done, the telephone being unavailable, and father fixing the car for the next day’s celebration. Lisa has somehow become aware that she and her family are dead. When the Pale Man (Stephen McHattie) learns of Lisa’s knowledge, he pays the family a visit.
“Haunter” is a most uninspired supernatural horror picture. Its premise is directly taken from movies like Alejandro Amenábar’s “The Others” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” so one would think that maybe it would strive to go beyond the fences of its concept. After all, if it did not, why make the film at all?
Its attempts to scare lack sense. We learn very early on that Lisa and her family are deceased and yet there are about half a dozen scenes where the protagonist is supposedly scared of some malevolent presence. She goes to investigate a strange noise. She breathes heavily. More strange sounds. More heavy breathing. I stayed in my seat in complete astonishment. Was screenwriter Brian King really convinced that what was on paper was actually scary? Lisa is the ghost! Is it supposed to be ironic?
The character is not written very smart. Lisa lives—or lived—in the mid-‘80s, not the Middle Ages. She appears to be in touch with pop culture given that her bedroom walls are covered with posters of musicians and movies. And yet we are supposed to believe that she does not know how to use a Ouija board properly? A whole lot of scary movies in the ‘70s and early ‘80s show characters communicating with the dead using the spirit board. Still, Lisa, who is supposed to be desperate to contact the other side (the living), fails to keep her fingers on the planchette. I wanted to scream at her.
The first half is a complete slog. Just because the day repeats with certain details having to be repetitive, there is no excuse for the material to be soaked in boredom. Lisa is bored—Breslin is good at rolling her eyes and portraying a hormonal, whiny teenager—and so we are bored, too. Our protagonist, the one who is supposed to be the anchor of whatever paranormal phenomena is occurring, fails to do anything interesting or come up with ideas that are truly out of the box, decisions designed to snag our attention.
The special and visual effects are showy and at times unnecessary but that is the least of the film’s problems. “Haunter,” directed by Vincenzo Natali, suffers from a lack of a workable screenplay. It underachieves instead of being willing and really pushing to be more than an experience to be forgotten right when the end credits appear. I am not convinced that anybody, especially the filmmakers who helmed this mess, can tell you with a straight face that is worth your time.