Stephen King's Groundhog Day - how does that grab you? If you'd rather not be grabbed, this might not be the film for you. But Haunter, which I mentioned last year and recently re-watched, strikes me as one of several rather good recent movies that take the classic ghost story as their point of departure from predictable horror.
In some films the twist is that 'Hey! They were all dead all along!' In this film that's a given. We begin on Sunday morning, when Lisa Johnson (Abigail Breslin) is woken by her little brother telling her, via toy walkie-talkie, that he and Edgar have found the pirate cave and will be spending all morning in it. Come and play! The problem is, every morning is Sunday morning for Lisa. Every day is the same day in 1986, the day before Lisa's sixteenth birthday. The day when she, her little brother, and her parents all died.
What makes the first half hour or so of the film absorbing is Breslin's perfect portrayal of a sulky, Gothy Eighties teenager. (She spends most of the movie in a Siouxsie and the Banshees tee-shirt.) Lisa's insistence that she did the washing yesterday, her mouthing of the script of the recurring episode of Murder She Wrote, her refusal to touch her mac and cheese all fit perfectly with the teen angst theme. The use of Peter and the Wolf as a recurring motif is also effective (Lisa has clarinet lessons).
Things start to go slightly awry when Lisa begins to hear voices. With help of a toy ouija board she attempts to make contact with whoever is calling. Instead she starts to experience more bizarre and disturbing events as other members of the family awaken from their grim version of the American Dream. Oh, and Edgar turns out to be far from imaginary. What Robert Westall called 'the metabolism' of the haunting is gradually revealed as Lisa, alternately bold and frightened, resourceful and baffled, explores the house she thought she knew. Suffice to say that this is a horror movie, and while not graphically violent there is much to disturb.
Haunter is a film that combines serious themes with playful use of ghost story conventions. Here we have a haunted house seen from the 'inside', a ghost from the past called into the contemporary world, and a take on the afterlife that recalls the best of The Twilight Zone. There is also a hint of Nigel Kneale in the notion that haunted houses are places that somehow trap the dead in recurring cycles of suffering. Suffice to say that - as in The Orphanage, an otherwise very different film - I find myself saying 'Alas! Poor ghost', but applauding the decision to provide an upbeat ending. Any teenager can be cynical.
I noticed that some YouTubers commenting on the trailer below didn't understand the plot. This is surprising, as what could be a confusing situation is spelled out pretty clearly to the observant viewer. Well, I figured it out, so anybody can.