by Walter Chaw A Paperhouse/Coraline kind of movie that mixes all that familiar guff into a paste with the can't-leave-this-house crap from The Others and, oh, why not, Beetlejuice, too, Vincenzo Natali's follow-up to his unfairly-maligned Splice is the genuinely bad Haunter, which plays every bit like a collection of "Resident Evil" cut-scenes. Abigail Breslin is Lisa, a period-'80s teenager in a Siouxsie and the Banshees T-shirt who, in a real knee-slapper, deadpans that "meat is murder" to her mother's offer of meatloaf, because The Smiths, get it? Doesn't matter. What matters is that Haunter is a master of overstatement (it wouldn't surprise me if this Lisa is an homage to the Staci Keanan Lisa), even taking a moment at the end to pay tribute to Carpenter's Christine for really no other reason than that it can't help being hyperbolic: the screaming is screamier, the whispering is whisperier, and it doesn't rain, it pours. Lisa is trapped in the last day of her life with her family in a sort of Groundhog Day conceit, except that she's a ghost who eventually figures out that the same evil ghost dude guy has been killing young girls just like her for decades, and that it's up to her to break the cycle. This leads, of course, to a scene from the ending of Ghost--no, not that one, the one before it where the villain gets dragged to hell by bad special effects.
Haunter is anchored by a game performance by young Breslin, who deserves much, much better than this. It's an adaptation of a "Goosebumps" book in that it's a worn-through conceit pitched at children and shut-ins. It breaks no new ground, suggests nothing fresh in the leftover casserole it mixes together, and with nothing on its mind, it proceeds to be about nothing at all. But while it's never scary and never interesting (because you're always a few dozen steps ahead of it), what most nettles is the closing sting of a whispered "Leeeeeeeeesahhhh!" that couldn't be more irritating, frankly. And here's a question: Why is it set in the '80s in the first place? I'm not complaining about getting to see that shitty Atari 2600 Pac-Man I once paid sixty bucks for from Sears on a giant CRT television, mind, I'm just wondering if there's meant to be some impact from the affectation or if it's merely affectation. Low-budget is a bad excuse; low-aspiring is inexcusable. With so many delightfully strange and boundaries-testing genre films in release just this calendar year, Haunter works as a handy reminder that the other stuff is still in production--and of what happens when a risky, almost-beautiful movie like Natali's Splice bombs, and he panders to try to get back in the game.