Tuesday, 9 September 2014

TIFF Review #4 - It Follows (2014)

Title: It Follows

Year of Release: 2014

Director: David Robert Mitchell

RATING:     3.5       /     5.0

For a second night in a row I'm seeing a new horror director's debut feature film. David Robert Mitchell's It Follows tells the story of a sexually transmitted haunting. Our protagonist Jay, a twenty or so year old girl, is dating a guy she has just met. As soon as their first sexual encounter ends, he introduces her to the evil that has leaked from his penis and into her vagina - a malevolent spirit that follows you everywhere. It can take the appearance of anyone, but no matter who it looks like at any given time, it does one thing only. It walks straight at you at a leisurely senior citizen pace and if it reaches you, you dead! The only way to redirect its attention and save yourself is to pass on the curse to another person through sex.

I found It Follows to be one of the more charming horrors I've had the pleasure of seeing recently. The world that the director creates is extremely distinct compared to other teen horror films I've seen. The suburb of Detroit where it takes place seems to run at a different pace than the rest of the world - people speak very slowly, gently, monotonously and with slight pauses between lines. Even the villain fits right in and moves at the average pace of a retired person. It has been a long time since I've seen such serene and calming encounters with a villain. There's very little ambient noise compared to most films which contributes to the peaceful feeling. I know it sounds ridiculous but I actually enjoyed this directing technique. It was akin to taking a slow, leisurely walk through an isolated park, and yet somehow didn't end up boring.

A major contributing factor to the atmosphere were the characters. They were my favourite part of the movie. Unlike standard teen horror, there are absolutely no stereotypes here. Just a group of good-hearted quiet geeks living an uneventful life. I really liked all of them and although only one or two of them actually had anything to do with the plot, the rest tagged along everywhere and were a welcome addition to the experience. I also liked how the movie avoided showing any adults throughout most of its running time. It made the whole endeavor feel like an adventure that young friends are sharing together.

In terms of horror, It Follows experiments with an interesting idea - the relentless pursuer that walks slowly in a straight line toward you and others can't see. I like that "the entity" constantly changes appearance which gives lots of opportunities to make crowd scenes tense and makes you suspect every background extra of being that particular scene's "walker". The opening scene was also very effective - it managed to create a tense, anxious feeling without showing anything (other than the beautiful final shot before the credits, OUCH). The girl in the opening was very well-directed, impressive. Some of the walkers were pretty creepy too. Unfortunately, due to the writing of the film, the horror goes from different and enticing to derivative and nonsensical in the second half of the film. As soon as the paranormal activity / poltergeist stuff started, the quality dropped several notches. As far as jump scares go, there were two and they got me pretty bad because they came truly unexpected, with no set up.

The writing really is what prevents the film from being what it could be. There are so many illogical leaps of faith and so many scenes that are ignored as soon as they are over (why are we expected to forget the boat scene happened? It virtually negates the whole pool finale). The story progression in particular was downright annoying - the first transition happens by the teens doing something the police already would have done 100 times over and solving a crime on their own. Pretty stupid way to move the story forward in my opinion. Police shouldn't have been involved in the first place if you were going to then employ the most basic "detective work" on the part of the teens to solve what people dusting for prints couldn't. Then, midway through the film, the abovementioned writing decision happens to make the villain act like a poltergeist, and it really didn't work. Especially in any scene involving a gun, it was ridiculous. Finally, at some point the teens go to an abandoned pool in 8 Mile, Detroit, with literally dozens of homeless people sleeping in the building's corridors, yet somehow the actual Olympic sized pool room still has a FULL, chlorinated pool with pristine clean water, not a spot of dirt anywhere, no bums (despite them being everywhere else in the area) and running electricity. Doesn't sound like an abandoned Detroit pool to me (especially considering the teens themselves prefaced walking there with "Our parents would NEVER let us go to this shady as fuck ghetto part of town"). And the whole reason for going to the pool was a bad idea for a finale in the first place. It really was disappointing to see it, especially as it was heaviest in the poltergeist activity out of the whole film. There was in general a very unsatisfying conclusion to the events.

It Follows is a movie that can offer you charm instead of a particularly good structure and execution. If you want to be transported to another world, not necessarily a great one but a very distinct one, I'd recommend it. Oh, and I can't end the review without praising both the film's soundtrack and cinematography. In one word, they are AWESOME! On sound we have hard-hitting Carpenter-style synths that bring you right back to the 70s and 80s. Visually, everything looked great, to the point where even the standard boring establishment shots of backyards and houses looked pretty. The film oozes style for sure.

RATING:     3.5       /     5.0

Monday, 8 September 2014

TIFF Review #3 - Goodnight Mommy (Ich Seh Ich Seh) (2014)

Title: Goodnight Mommy (Ich Seh Ich Seh)

Year of Release: 2014

Directors: Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz

RATING:       4.5    /    5

Well this movie caught me completely off-guard. I had no idea what to expect given that this is the very first feature film of Austrian director duo Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz. Goodnight Mommy is about two young twin boys who live in a countryside house with their actress mom, and spend most of their waking hours playing together. Their mother has just had surgery and her face is covered in bandages, rendering her unrecognizable to the twins. They become convinced that the woman who has returned from surgery is not their real mother...and I won't spoil the rest.

If you have any interest in cinema as an art form, Goodnight Mommy is an absolute must-see. It is the most beautifully shot film I've seen since Under the Skin. Each shot is framed in such a meticulous and perfectly orchestrated way that you could pause the film at any time and end up with a still worthy of hanging on your wall. I've never seen a director put Venetian blinds to such diverse and good use, especially the nighttime shots of them, it made natural movement look slithery and creepy.

The most haunting aspect of the incredible visuals was the approach to the scares, if you can call them that, in the first half of the film. The horror in Goodnight Mommy changes about halfway through, from purely subtle and visual to very unnerving body horror and even gore. Those subtle shots in the beginning reminded me of the old French film Eyes Without a Face. The mother is shown only in her bandages, with the audience having no reference point for what is under there, which helps us imagine the most horrible. She lurks like a monster in dark shadows and in reflections, and it is as chilling as it is beautiful, I enjoyed it immensely.

That's not to say I was disappointed when the movie changed direction to the much more macabre in its second half. Exactly the opposite, in fact. The directors handle both subtlety and violence incredibly well, resulting in two entirely different but equally enjoyable halves. This transition also helped keep this very personal, three actor, single location film interesting until the end. It helped it avoid treading similar ground more than once. And oh my god what a second half we have here. The kind of violence the characters commit against each other is so specifically chosen. It may not be the bloodiest or most disturbing ideologically, but it is always acts that are very easy to imagine and relate to, so you actually end up feeling them in your body as if happening to you. This is body horror done right in my opinion.

Goodnight Mommy also did something that very few movies dare to do. It interrupted the last third, the most tense part of a movie, with a hilarious 5 minute comedy scene involving some Red Cross workers. It was a big risk considering all the laughing could potentially diminish the impact of the ending once we return to the violence at hand. Instead it played it off masterfully and made the ending seem even more vile juxtaposed against the lightheartedness of that scene. On this note, all the other funny scenes in the film were also excellent. The beginning made me laugh much more than once.

The downside is that one of the twists worked really well for this movie BUT was alluded to way too well, so you guess it before the first third is even over. On top of that, it's a twist that's already been done in a not too dissimilar Asian film before. Regardless, this weak hiding may have been intentional since the movie doesn't make that big of a deal out of it in the end. In fact, the twist creates a very clever distortion of your perception of the characters initially, and twists (no pun intended) your expectations of who is up to what. So although not original, it just made the rest of the movie better so I'll accept it as a necessary evil.

Goodnight Mommy is one of the strongest horror debut films I've seen. It is stunning body horror, and puts most other films to shame with its cinematography. Well-directed, well-acted, well-everything. An absolute must-see.

RATING:       4.5    /    5

Sunday, 7 September 2014

TIFF Review #2 - Tusk (2014)

Title: Tusk

Year of Release: 2014

Director: Kevin Smith

RATING:      2.0    /    5.0

This is probably a movie that needs no introduction as I imagine anyone that has come this far to read the review knows exactly what it is. But I have to write one just on the off chance.

Tusk is Kevin Smith's newest film, which was spawned from a discussion on a podcast about a craigslist posting of a guy offering free room and board in exchange for the person wearing a walrus suit. So this last sentence, in addition to being the origin story, can also serve as the entire plot description too - the film is about a guy who runs a podcast, who sees the same kind of posting (except in a bar instead of online), responds to it, and...you guessed it...has to wear a walrus "suit".

The "horror" elements of Tusk are barely above "not there at all" so it doesn't entirely belong on this blog, but since you can call it a genre film if you squint hard enough, I decided to review it anyway. In my personal opinion, Tusk is a straight-up stoner comedy. No, it is not about stoners. It was simply conceived by stoned guys and it has the target audience of stoned guys. I am not saying this is a necessarily bad thing. I too made like a stereotypical Canadian and indulged in a nice joint before entering the theater and seeing it. I am just trying to set expectations for those who elect to see the movie.

To start with the good, unlike a lot of the smaller genre films, Tusk is as well-shot and well-acted as any major film (not particularly surprising given that the actors involved are relatively big names). I've never been the biggest Justin Long fan, but here he truly embodied his character and had good delivery given what he was asked to do. I enjoyed his presence a lot, great job! Michael Parks also did very well as the villain, and had the best delivery and comedic timing out of the whole lot. I don't even understand why Haley Joel Osment is in this beyond a friend trying to give another friend a paycheck. His role was bland and I don't remember him saying much for the entire second half of the film (he only looks at the other people speaking). Johnny Depp put on his typical funny quirky character spiel, and while he had something going for sure, it varied too little to remain funny for more than the first 10 minutes after meeting him. The locations (well, mostly one location) was a good choice, the house was beautiful and helped contribute a few shots that were far more auteur-ish than average for the movie.

The start of the not-so-good would be the "genre" part of the film. It obviously was not a priority for the filmmaker to infuse any tension or scares or mystery or uncertainty or plot development in the story. Nothing wrong with that, it's up to him what kind of movies he wants to make. But then why do we get random, completely uncomedic scenes that try to emulate horror but in a very bad way? Like a guy, who is about to die, calling TWO people in a DIFFERENT COUNTRY and leaving long voicemails acting scared, telling them to come rescue him, instead of calling 911, all the while looking over his shoulder scared so that he's not discovered. I understand that it's insignificant for a stoner comedy film to try to be smart and suspenseful, but then why include those type of scenes at all if you're not even going to try to make them interesting. Also, unlike the most similar movie I can think of (The Human Centipede), there isn't much of a progression to the happenings. He just goes there and is relatively instantly Walrusified. I would have enjoyed to see more detail on this front. The Walrus suit was pretty funny at least. It looked like a fat man wrapped in a handsewn quilt, which fit well with the stupidity and comedy of the rest of the film. I liked it. As a whole though, in the Walrus scenes (which are surprisingly much fewer than you'd expect compared to those of the "subplot" of the friends and detective looking for the missing guy), the movie tried to play the WTF card for its laughs. I can only see that being effective for non-genre fans who haven't seen the standard B-movie fare like Troma films or Noboru Iguchi's films. Those contain a lot more WTF than what's on display here so it was a bit too tame for me to have the intended effect.

Despite taking the time to write the above, I'm going to say "Forget everything I've written so far about this film, it does not matter". Why, you don't ask? Well, I'll tell you anyway! The ONLY important aspect of Tusk are the jokes, because the movie is an almost non-stop joke (think of a stretched out Sitcom episode, only a laugh track was missing). So the characters are basically trying to fire jokes at you at a rate of 10 a minute and hoping some of them stick. The problem with this? Almost none of the jokes are really original. A good 50% of them were Canada/USA stereotype jokes. And sadly, not some unique, clever jokes about the two places. If you've spent any time on social media like reddit, you will have heard them all. I am not even kidding, they were of the "Aboot, Canadians are polite, Poutine, 'Murica loves guns, Canada loves hockey" variety. Maybe this would be entertaining in another part of the world that isn't tired of hearing the same thing about these two countries over and over, but coming from a Canadian, I felt like the script of the movie was akin to reading YouTube comments on a Canadian video. I still laughed in a few spots, but it didn't mean much to me considering it's not hard to come up with five decent jokes if you are allowed to propose five hundred. They may have been amazingly delivered (again, great job Justin Long, who knew you were a comedic ace), but that can't compensate for the triteness.

I'm sure Tusk will find its audience given that some of the people in the theater seemed to genuinely enjoy it. For me, it was tedious, repetitive and boring despite its very short running time. I wish it had a bit more of a plot beyond the one-line synopses and I wish it had more clever jokes instead of referencing the overly-abused Canada tropes that anyone who ever tries to make jokes about Canada falls back on. I'll stick to Smiley Face for my stoner comedy.

(For the record, I actually really wanted to like the film because Kevin Smith is such a likable and nice guy.)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Mini Reviews #1 - Dark Circles, Possession of Michael King, Coherence

I decided to start a series of postings where I can share my thoughts on movies that either didn't inspire me to devote the time to writing a full review, or I saw at a busy time in my life when I just couldn't get around to writing about them. The first of these contains two movies that I wanted to write a full review of (Dark Circles / Coherence) which I saw in August but delayed for too long, and one that I don't have all that much to say about in the first place (Possession of Michael King)

Title: Dark Circles

Year of Release: 2013

Director: Paul Soter

RATING:    2.5   /    5

Dark Circles is about a husband and wife who have a newborn baby and decide to move out into the country to raise it. There, they seem to find very little peace in between the baby crying all night and construction workers near their house hammering away all day. For some reason this puts them in a trance-like state where they can't function properly. They start to see a weird woman who is trying to steal their baby and both progress into total madness.

This movie is not entirely without merit as it features a couple of fun and tense scenes, such as the knife in the garbage disposal. The actors were pretty good considering what they had to work with. The problem is that it is mostly one note throughout its running time with scare scenes repeating ad nauseam. Even more so, the family's plight is self-imposed (just go spend a day at a motel and recover if the noise is making you so crazy), and that the ending is literally impossible given the film that came before it. I'd compare it to the Exorcist ending with Regan turning out to have epilepsy and nothing more. Think about how much sense that would make after the latin, head spinning, pea soup and levitation. Exactly.

Title: Coherence

Year of Release: 2013

Director: James Ward Byrkit

RATING: 3.0  /  5.0

As an Astrophysics grad student, I really wanted to like Coherence. It attempts to take a physics concept (quantum decoherence) and shape a thriller around it, which sounds very neat on paper. Unfortunately I don't think it succeeded fully. The characters acted very irrationally all the time, bringing about plot points that made no sense (what was with that plan to 'blackmail the guy' by slipping a note in the centre of the room where someone else would see it, not him). The overall idea, while admirable, was framed very poorly, almost like an Ancient Aliens episode (really? a comet did this?). Even though the framing didn't make sense, it wasn't even original - it literally copied the set-up of Another Earth from 2 years earlier and just changed the genre. The ending was ambiguous in the worst way possible - it contributed no additional layer of thought to the film, it only let the filmmakers avoid finishing a movie that could have had no satisfying conclusion due to the direction it took over its course. I still derived some entertainment due to the mystery aspect of it (I love mysteries) but I think the film believes it is several notches smarter than it actually is.

Title: Possession of Michael King

Year of Release: 2014

Director: David Jung

RATING: 2.0  /  5.0

A guy's wife dies and he becomes all rebellious against the universe and challenges its forces to take him over (basically participates in a whole bunch of rituals meant to implant demons inside him). Why he does that, who knows. Not exactly a healthy reaction to a pretty obvious accident. Anyway, this is a found footage movie. It's mostly a guy inexplicably recording himself. He is not a nice guy. He is a self-important ass of a man. So this movie is a journey with someone not particularly pleasant. It is a very over-the-top movie. You'd think a found footage director would want to keep the tone subtle as to compliment the "realism" of the medium. Nope! Over the top in every single scene. Also, there is no tension to be found anywhere in the film. Even the chase scenes were just cold, detached images on static cameras, which made them very boring.

Friday, 5 September 2014

TIFF Review #1 - Spring (2014)

Title: Spring 

Year of Release: 2014 

Directors: Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead

RATING: 4.0 / 5.0

Two years ago I saw Resolution at Toronto After Dark (reviewed here) and while I instantly knew it was something special, I also needed some time to digest the tactics it used against the audience. I mentioned I thought the directors, the very talented Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, would make a genre-defining film one day. I now realize they had already made one in Resolution, which has stayed with me as one of the most memorable horrors of recent times. Regardless, their second film Spring is now complete. Is it equal in quality to their first?

Spring is about a young guy named Evan who gets into a bad brawl with a burly biker in a bar, and flees to Europe in an attempt to evade repercussions from both the man and the police. A chance connection with some British drunkards takes him to a quaint Italian town. There, in what seems like the world coming to a halt, he passes and notices a beautiful woman wearing a red dress. They meet and he finds out her name is Louise and she is studying biology at a local university. Evan is so enamoured with Louise that he elects to stay in the town and work for a local farmer in exchange for room and board in order to pursue her. But all people have skeletons in their closets and soon hers will come out.

Like when Evan met Louise, the first thing I noticed about Spring were her looks. Holy hell is this movie gorgeous. The cinematography and Italian locations combined are so beautiful that it really helps you relate to the main character, the beauty puts you and him in the mood for love. I especially enjoyed the aerial shots with the camera pointing straight down. It almost gave the illusion of hollow buildings. The flying shots over the water were amazing as well. It's like a free vacation included with the movie.

But lets put looks aside. While there are equal doses of comedy, drama, and horror in the film, the main dish on the menu is the romantic relationship that develops between the young lovers Evan and Louise. The good thing is that they are both very endearing characters with their own unique faults, and that the actors portraying them did an excellent job showing the progress of the relationship. I don't know if it was in my head, but I really felt them go from zero chemistry initially to fully realized chemistry by the end, mirroring the way a real relationship develops and fitting very well with the plot points of the film. I wouldn't be surprised if the film was shot in sequential order to achieve this developing familiarity between the protagonists, and if not then even more kudos to the directors. The only slight note is that unlike its inspiration (Before Sunrise), it had just a few too many professions of love by the characters. It was more "tell" instead of "show" when it came to informing us that their feelings are growing stronger.

As the movie goes on, it makes it perfectly clear that it chooses as it's main focus symbolism that applies to all relationships, not just ones with girls with dark secrets. Whatever monsters exist in this film are strictly allegorical. Think Possession by Andrzej Zulawski. Since I always love movies that work on several planes at once, this was very welcome to me and I enjoyed listening to the film's interesting and life-aware voice, great writing Mr. Benson! But by choosing to uncompromisingly develop its symbolic layer, the film sometimes forces the characters in its literal "what is happening on screen" layer to do things that no one would really do, which slightly hindered the flow of the film and infused a bit of horror movie logic.

One thing that I found interesting about the way Spring approaches its "monsters" was the intensity level of the scenes featuring them. Instead of everything building to some grand final showdown, the movie did the opposite and delivered its most subtle moments near its conclusion. Since subtle horror is what I love most about the genre, I liked the ending a lot. Recalling the problem I mentioned above (the symbolism compromising the believability of the actions of the protagonists), it would actually have been mostly addressed if the movie had opted for pure subtlety in its entire running time instead of only in the final scenes. If all the happenings were more implied than so apparently shown, I could believe the characters having doubts but acting in the way they did anyway. It would have brought that slightly lacking synchrony to the multiple layers of the film. With that said...I still loved when we saw more of the "villain". Cool design and great, meticulously fleshed-out backstory.

While not quite as mind-tingling as Resolution, Spring did nothing to change the fact that Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are my favourite horror directors of the new wave. For me it is the best horror so far this year, for trying and succeeding to be different and for putting new twists on familiar tales. It was littered with the same small touches, subplots, side characters, and attention to details that we saw the directors capable of in Resolution; I bet a rewatch would make me like the film even more since I'll pick up on more of them.

Please keep the unique, non-trendy, well-written, well thought-out genre films coming, boys!

Rating:    4.0  /  5.0

Sunday, 17 August 2014

At the Devil's Door (aka Home) (2014) Review

Title: At the Devil's Door / Home

Year of Release: 2014

Director: Nicholas McCarthy

RATING:   3      /      5

When Nicholas McCarthy's first movie The Pact came out, I gave it a glowing review (read here). It was clearly budget-constrained yet it still did plenty right to be a good watch. Because of that, I was excited to delve into his new film, At the Devil's Door. I didn't know much about it going in, and that definitely helped my viewing experience to an extent, so I will try my best to not spoil any part of it here beyond the first 5-10 minutes.

The movie opens with a girl and a boy somewhere in the desert. The girl has decided to sell her soul to someone (I'm sure you can guess who by the film title) in exchange for a surprisingly small bundle of cash. When the transaction is complete, she goes home, and tries to shake off the experience and stash her cash away. Unfortunately, it isn't very easy for her to do so, given the invisible presence which has followed her home and is determined to show her it owns her now. Cut to the same house, empty now, being sold by the parents of a missing girl. The real estate agent responsible for selling it starts seeing the girl from the opening wandering around the house, and eventually gets entangled into whatever business was going on with the whole "soul selling" thing.

Watching this movie reminded me of eating a bag of assorted jellybeans. Some are amazing, some are OK, and then once in a while you get licorice and it makes your face pucker in disgust and ruins your whole jellybean eating experience. At the start, this movie drew me in with several things I loved. The opening was cryptic and set up the mystery in a good way, and I love horror movies where there is a mystery involved. On top of that, the movie played with the "opening scene kill" trope in a pretty interesting way which I haven't seen much before. The first few creepy moments were excellently done as well. I dug the extended scenes of hesitant glancing at the dresser (nice tension being built there), the rotating shots that reveal things in the background, the hand reaching into the dresser at an obscured angle, even the eyes. They weren't typical jump scares, they weren't even accompanied by noises, they relied entirely on old-fashioned tension and expectation. But then, buried midway down the pack, comes the licorice. What happened to this movie about halfway through I cannot even fathom, because it does a complete 180 in its fear tactics and replaces the tension with the most ridiculous, mainstream, cheesy jump scares. The culmination of this is in the hospital scene. The scares, if I can call them that, used in that scene are downright offensive and nothing the movie showed me after could have completely recovered my opinion of it. I smell studio meddling here because they were cheap and taken from other very recent horror films (of awful quality).

The villain was an equally mixed bag. Initially, I loved the way he was portrayed - always in reflections, or in the distance out of focus. The makeup worked for exactly that sort of presence, it was tastefully minimal. But then, along with the rest of the film, he took a turn toward the cheesy CGI closeups. The better side of him still made sporadic appearances until the end though, so at least it wasn't a total downhill slope. However, diversity is not his strong suit. Not one. Not two. THREE characters have absolutely identical encounters with him. It was like they wrote a single set of scare scenes and then proceeded to shoot them three times over with different actors/actresses. I did not understand the director's choice in this regard and thought it brought monotony that was in sharp contrast to the diversity that the storyline tries to endow on the film.

While the movie does use a lot of individually generic premises and plotlines, it still combined enough of them to feel somewhat fresh and new as a whole, so it does get points from me for slight originality. I liked that it had a large span and constantly attempted to change direction; it also used one of my favourite narrative film techniques from a certain 1960s horror. Unfortunately, where it ultimately ended up was at the same place as its most generic inspiration, resulting in an ending that would have been weak regardless of the final choice made by the character - both options for the ending have been done to death in other films.

At The Devil's Door is pretty much at the very threshold of quality that I would recommend. It is by no means great (and in parts not even good) yet it managed to be an entertaining enough watch throughout most of the running time.

RATING:    3    /    5

Monday, 23 September 2013

Haunter (2013) Review

Title: Haunter

Year of Release: 2013

Director: Vincenzo Natali

RATING:    2.5   /    5.0

Haunter is the new film by director Vincenzo Natali, who directed the cult classic Cube (one of the best and most imaginative films I've seen). It is about a family who live in a time loop inside their own house - every day they wake up in the same calendar date, they eat the same thing they ate the day before, they do the same chores, they have the same fights, etc. The only one who is aware that this is happening is the teenage daughter Lisa, played by Abigail Breslin. However, her attempts at convincing the other family members that they are playing on repeat always fail because they perceive things as normal. Eventually she starts noticing strange sounds and voices coming from all over the house, and decides to investigate them. The investigation causes the daily routines of the family to change, and a strange man warns her to stop inquiring about her situation or else she will be sorry. She ignores his warnings and dives further into the mystery of where she is and what is happening to her and her family. 

Haunter is the kind of film that we don't often get in the horror genre - family friendly. It had more in common, both stylistically and thematically, with a made-for-TV horror like the old Nickelodeon show "Are You Afraid of the Dark" than it did with a more serious genre offering. This isn't necessarily bad; a couple of years ago the Innkeepers took the same approach to the genre and pulled it off quite well, creating endearing and likable characters. However, Haunter isn't as successful in its execution, despite a good idea to work with. Virtually every aspect of the film was lacking a certain something that kept it from being great. The characters aren't very compelling, the scares fall flat half the time, the sets and mood zigzag between great and awful, and most importantly the movie is so cheesy that you better hope you’re not lactose intolerant.  

Story-wise, the first third of the film was excellent and kept my interest piqued. The idea of someone reliving the same day over and over is not new for horror (I can think of several other genre films which use this concept), but it was still different enough here to be unique in my books. It was like a puzzle box unravelling slowly. And now that I know the ending of the film, some of the smaller touches from this first third (the missing clothes, the Pacman game, the car that won't start) show the attention to detail that the writer invested in creating the story. Unfortunately, the wider the puzzle box opens, the less enticing its insides become. The middle third revealed almost all there was to know about the story, and what it decided to do from there simply wasn't as interesting as the mystery aspect of the repeating house. I just didn't care whether Lisa accomplished the goal she set out for herself or not, because it related to an uninteresting character who we barely experience in the film; thus I did not care about what happened to this character at all. 

While most of the overall idea of the film was pretty good, the cinematic qualities made a lot of the scenes fail, even those which were clever and unique in concept. My biggest problem was with how damn cheesy everything was, and I really mean everything. Some of the dialogue was so poor that the actors struggled to deliver it. There are many examples of this, with the worst offenders being Lisa talking to the Ouija board and the conversation in the car with the father. The ending scenes are like the cherry on top of the cheesecake. I groaned at the fate of both the heroes AND the villains. Truly Goosebump-y conclusion. And I understand the need to keep the film visually interesting after so much repetition of content (due to the nature of the plot), but the way they chose to do this did not feel inspired or improve the monotony. They used standard filters and effects like “old movie reel”, complete with blurred edges. The kind of stuff that is typical of TV and not the big screen, for good reason.

I am not sure what contributed to this, but atmosphere was a major problem in a large chunk of the film. It didn't even matter whether the scene on screen was emotional, funny, or supposed to be scary – there was just something off, either in the editing or music or pacing, that would drain the humour/tension out of the scene. I still liked some of the jokes and scare scenes, but I felt detached from them. I was never quite transported inside Lisa’s world, and maybe that’s why I didn't care about the outcome as much as I should have.

The one saving grace of the movie for me was Stephen McHattie as the Pale Man. You might know him as the lead from another Canadian low budget horror, Pontypool. Here he abandons the cool cat persona and plays a sickly looking stranger who can be intimidating by just standing there. I really liked his chemistry with Abigail Breslin - they never speak to each other but they do a great job playing off of each other's mere presence. The movie probably would have been a bit better if they utilized him for more of the scares and developed him further. 

Overall, Haunter wasn't entirely my type of horror film (at least not past the first third, which was a fun puzzle). It was heading in the right direction but took a serious detour at some point, I went along with it, and didn’t end up enjoying the ride that much. It isn't bad though, at least it is unique, and I hope the director keeps up with his streak of very different films. 

RATING:    2.5    /    5.0