Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.
Somewhere between Groundhog Day, The Others and a very self-serious Beetlejuice lies perhaps the most derivative ghost story of the young 21st century, Haunter (Netflix). The copy-paste premise (Why am I reliving this day? Oh! I’m dead!) is only half the problem. More troubling, Haunter may well have been an attempt to capitalize on the bigger-profile releases of Stoker and Chloe Moretz’s Carrie, both of which are also 2013 thrillers starring mid-tier ingenues. While the hope might have been just to sell some easy DVDs, the comparison isn’t kind to Haunter. It is easily the least of the three and features the weakest lead. I’m not wild about Moretz but she looks like Lawrence Olivier next to Abigail Breslin, who has gotten progressively less watchable as she’s gotten older.
But I’m not here to to tell you why you shouldn’t watch Haunter (because honestly one can only type so many words for free before one starts to resents oneself). I’m here to tell you why you should. Not surprisingly, my argument begins with, “Because there’s have nothing better on.”
In Haunter’s defense, it fully explores its roots in the movies it draws from within the first few minutes. So after you arrive at all the realizations The Others took a gloomy hour and a half to suss out, what happens next? Main character Lisa (Breslin) and her family are dead, now what? Bicycling through the fog only to find you’re unable to leave your yard? Sure. Cliche but charmingly nostalgic efforts to Ouija your way to answers? Sure. THEN WHAT? At least for a while the answer to that question is makes Haunter reasonably intriguing.
Reducing the crux of the plot to mere backstory is nifty approach, though it’s one that occasionally makes the movie drag. Certain areas feel like filler to stretch the run time, in the vein of Insidious: the final destination is clear early in the third act yet the movie takes an unnecessarily circuitous path to get there. Still, through all the low points, you never lose your curiosity about how it will all come together in the end. So that’s something.
Fortunately the ability to rouse moderate curiosity is not the movie’s strongest point, not even close. That honor goes to Canadian character actor Stephen McHattie. This is a man who got brutally killed shortly after his introduction in A History of Violence, yet still managed to steal the show. He was more enthralling than ANYBODY has a right to be in Pontypool, which, if you haven’t seen it, you must watch immediately. When he first arrives in Haunter, you only hear his voice. If you’ve ever heard it before, you know instantly that the gravelly baritone speaking from the other side of the family’s front door can belong to no other. He’s a magnetic actor who delivers some really phenomenal lines, including a piece of absolute poetry borrowed from Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself. It rhymes.” (The script also features mind-numbing shit like, “We can send this bastard to hell, but we have to do it together!” Maybe McHattie wrote his own dialogue.)
Added bonus: How does Vincenzo Natali go from the much hyped director of Cube and Splice — both of which are excellent — to this? Not that Haunter is horrible but it’s little more than a star vehicle for a marginal star. It’s nowhere near the sort of stuff a director this talented and should be working on, especially since after 2009’s Splice he was in talks to direct film adaptations of some major properties including Swamp Thing, High Rise and Neuromancer.