Sunday, February 9, 2014

IFC Mindnight's HAUNTER (2013) Blu-ray: A New Twist On An Old Trope

Haunter (2013)


Buy the Blu-ray or DVD

The Movie

Ghost stories have been prevalent all throughout film history. It probably has something to do with our curiosity of the metaphysical world around us and our inability as a species to let the past remain behind us. It could also be because a great ghost story can just be scary as hell.

Regardless of the reasoning, tales of the paranormal have been on an upswing in cinema over the last five years or so, due in part to the phenomenal success of films like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and in some ways, they've begun to overstay their welcome. By having the same imagery and tropes thrust at us over and over again, what once was frightening has become just another excuse to insert stingers and jump-scare tactics to try and make a buck. As such, even though I am a fan of much of Vincenzo Natali's work, I wasn't sure what to expect of his latest film, HAUNTER, which has been very much marketed as a straight-up ghost story. Well, after sitting down with the film, I'm happy to say that the film is a whole lot more than just that.

The basic premise of the film, taken from IFC Midnight's press materials, is as follows:
Lisa Johnson is one day shy of her sixteenth birthday. And she will be forever. She and her family are dead and doomed to repeat that fateful last day before they were all killed in 1985. Only Lisa has “woken up” and realizes what is going on. She starts to feel as if she is being haunted, but the “ghost” turns out to be Olivia, a very much alive girl who lives in the house in the present day with her own family.
The easy sell here would be to call HAUNTER a reverse ghost story, but that would completely dismiss all of the other elements of the film that make it good. HAUNTER has so many layers to it, and the places that the story ultimately goes are surprising. By never completely falling into line with the standard tropes of the genre, the movie manages to not only keep the viewer's attention, but it also keeps them engaged.

Another thing that HAUNTER has going for it is the performances. Abigail Breslin is wonderful as Lisa, and Stephen McHattie is sufficiently creepy as the Pale Man, who shows up to try and keep Lisa in line when she begins to get too curious. The rest of the cast is fine, but these were the obvious standouts.

I also love that HAUNTER is set in the 1980s. Some might consider it to be a cheap ploy, but for me, the nostalgic feeling the film had really helped me to settle into it. It just felt right, and it was removed enough from modern day to allow the more quiet moments to play out without the trappings of a society that is constantly immersed in technology; which might have actually detracted from the central mystery, were it not in the past.

When you're a teenager, life can feel like an endless loop of the same routine. Hell, even as an adult, I can very much relate to that notion. HAUNTER takes that reality and uses it to its advantage, much like GROUNDHOG DAY did a couple of decades ago. Ultimately, its not a perfect movie, but HAUNTER is certainly worth your time. If you go in with an open mind and allow yourself to fall into its hypnotic loop, you may even come out with a greater appreciation of what is possible in the modern ghost story. 

For a more in-depth discussion of the film, check out the Dead Air Podcast review of it.

Movie Score


The Blu-ray

IFC Midnight brings HAUNTER to Blu-ray in a single disc edition with a handful of special features.

Video Quality

HAUNTER's palate is intentionally drab, with many of its colors muted and dark for most of the film. As such, it's not the kind of film that necessarily "pops" on Blu-ray. Still, the film looks great on this disc, and the high-bitrate AVC encode allows for solid blacks, and believable shadows, which the film depends on for its atmosphere. The few scenes that do take place in a brighter environment look very good as well, and they serve as a wonderful contrast to the rest of the film's cinematography. I imagine that it wouldn't look quite this good on a Standard Definition DVD.

Audio Quality

For the most part, HAUNTER is a quiet film, though that doesn't mean that it doesn't benefit from the DTS-Master HD Audio track that accompanies it. Music plays a large part in the film, and the way that it is presented here allows it to really stand out. There are also some great moments in the surround channels that allow the film to fully immerse you in its ghostly atmosphere. And, of course, the few louder parts of the film are handled just fine. It's not the kind of movie you would use to show off your home theater system, but it's a solid audio track.

Extra Features

HAUNTER doesn't have a ton of special features, but there are a couple that are easily worth your time.
  • Feature Commentary with Director Vincenzo Natali: Natali's commentary track gives a nice mixture of technical information and production history. Even though he is alone on the track, there is never a dull moment and very little dead air. He does jump around at times, but it's not distracting, and his commentary is always interesting.
  • Feature Commentary with Writer Brian King: King's commentary focuses solely on his experience of coming up with the concept and getting it down onto paper. He talks about his influences, why he made some of the decisions that he did with the setting and characters, and how his written words translated into the final product. Like Natali's commentary, this track is fairly laid-back, but never boring.
  • Behind The Scenes Featurette (~20 min): A decent promotional piece on the making of the film. Don't expect a lot of insight into the film, as this is kind of an EPK-like featurette, and there is definitely overlapping info from the commentary tracks. Still, the cast interviews are a welcome inclusion, and it's an easy watch. 
  • HAUNTER - The Complete Storyboards by Vincenzo Natali: The original storyboards for the film. Probably useful for aspiring filmmakers, but I didn't find the need to dig into the entire lot.
  • Original Concept Poster: Kind of a useless feature, which may be why it wasn't included on disc's slipcover. It literally is just a still of an early poster for the film.
  • Trailer: The theatrical trailer for the film (see below).

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, IFC Midnight does a fine job in presenting HAUNTER on Blu-ray. The film's video transfer and audio presentation are as good as would be expected, and there are some nice special features. None of the features ever go too in-depth, but there probably is no need for them to do so. The commentary tracks are probably the best of the lot, and if you enjoy the film as I did, they are certainly worth your time and help to piece together the puzzle that the movie presents. Overall, this is a solid package, and one that I have no problem recommending.


Blu-ray Score


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