I imagine by now the seasoned horror fan ought to feel wary of novel variations on well-established formulae—the fresh intrigue generated by such gimmickry rarely justifies the betrayal of tradition it entails.
Genre is by design inexhaustible, and genre films—particularly horror films, among the most rigidly codified since the western—offer pleasures commensurate with their fidelity to the template. And who wouldn’t prefer predictable to poor? Well, Vincenzo Natali, it seems, who with Haunter conspires to tell a ghost story from the perspective of the ghost.
The trouble? Between Insidious, The Conjuring, and Sinister, each of which has enjoyed some critical and commercial success, we have come upon a revival of the classical haunted house picture, a long-dormant horror tradition on the verge of a new golden age, and that timing has the unfortunate consequence of casting Haunter‘s faults in relief. Its high-concept premise—an angsty murdered teenager (Abigail Breslin) struggles from the afterlife to warn her killer’s next victim—has an elegance roughly on par with a Goosebumps novel, refusing to follow its own contradictory rules and barely sustaining a pretense of internal logic. Fear, meanwhile, is relegated to a handful of lazy jump-scares integrated without regard for tone or rhythm.
The filmmakers likewise botch aesthetic considerations: Jon Joffin’s musty, amber-hued digital cinematography looks embarrassingly amateur compared to Chris Norr’s superb low-budget work on Sinister. In 1997, Natali fashioned an original, accomplished science-fiction picture called Cube out of a single set and a few hundred thousand dollars. Sixteen years later, a much higher budget at his disposal, he can muster only TV-grade ghouls and chintzy CG fog.