Mini-Review: Coraline Meets Lost Meets Pac-Man in Vincenzo Natali’s Haunted House Mystery Haunter (2013)

*Spoilery Spoilers*
Lisa (Abigail Breslin) is a fifteen year old who can never turn sixteen, because she lives in a house where she just re-lives the same day over and over again. Yes, it’s just like Groundhog Day only with ghosts, 70s fashion and no Bill Murray. Lisa tries to uncover the mystery of why she is trapped in this house with her family. She tries to go out, but that doesn’t work. She travels time, she eats a lot of meatloaf and she re-watches the same episode of Murder She Wrote until she just can’t fucking take it anymore, and who can blame her? That Angela Lansbury is one annoying bitch, like my grandmother (RIP) used to say and my grandmother was a great person. 

Vincenzo Natali is and remains one of my favorite horror directors. It seems that a lot of people take him for granted or underestimate him. However he consistently tries to innovate the genre and bring his own unique vision and cinematic flare to it. Haunter is a visually arresting film with an incredible cinematography, courtesy of Jon Joffin. The film also shines in the sound department, with a catchy theme by Alex Khaskin. Unlike Natali’s best films however he unfortunately didn’t have a hand in the screenplay with this one. Seeing that his best films Cube and Splice were co-written by him, it’s safe to say that he’s a solid writer. One of the main problems of Haunter is the convoluted and confusing story.

I won’t try to make sense of this film on a narrative level, because the plot is very complex and I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t understand everything (though it’s questionable that it all makes sense). I do appreciate and admire this film for trying to be original, which you don’t see often these days. In the midst of remakes and franchises Natali consistently pursues the stories he’s interested in, even if they’re not easy to sell or financially successful. If that isn’t the true definition of an auteur, I don’t know what is. At the end of the day, even if the film is a bit unsatisfying the performances are certainly memorable. I especially liked Abigail Breslin and Peter Outerbridge (who plays the father).

All in all this is maybe a slightly sub-par film. It’s certainly worthy from a technical, creative and acting standpoint, but it’s a bit lacking in its execution, it suffers from structural problems and an almost exclusively plot driven screenplay. The film doesn’t fully live up to its intriguing premise, and progressively loses strength culminating in a rather unsatisfying ending. Still, it’s an interesting “failure” and there is much to enjoy and take away from a film like Haunter. I recommend it especially if you like Vincenzo Natali’s work, original/high-concept films or intricate mysteries à la Coraline (2009) or Lost.

6.5 out of 10


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