Haunter

As this movie opens, a mom asks her teenage daughter to put some clothes in the washer and the daughter responds sarcastically that she already did the laundry. Is she being a little shit because she's going through a rebellious phase? Soon enough we find out that no, she's being sarcastic because she's trapped in a Groundhog Day type scenario: she literally has done the laundry every single day and no, it never gets clean, because their lives keep getting rebooted back to the same zero point where there's a mess in the hamper. Her smart-alec comments are justified because her gullible mom still thinks she's the sort of person who cooks meatloaf for dinner and isn't dead. That dummy!

Now, that would be an interesting enough avenue to explore - I mean, I already know what a Ghost Dad looks like, but what about a Ghost Family? - but it quickly becomes clear that the movie is not going to spend any time trying to unpack the existential ramifications of it's version of the afterlife, because when the daughter caves into her mother and goes downstairs to use the washing machine she hears a strange thumping. Soon enough it's revealed that their ghost-house is being haunted by another ghost, one that obviously acts in more traditionally spooky ways. As soon as you hear those rattling noises you know that this movie is going to squander it's initial premise on generic scare tactics, and sure enough, the movie that follows hardly spends any time or energy exploring the rules of the void it takes place in. Instead we spend a lot of time getting to know the evil ghost's backstory. (He killed exactly one girl a year for every year in the 1950s, so as far as serial murderers go, he was actually kind of frugal.)

As I was tuning out of the generic middle of the movie I started to think about two things. One: in this world ghosts have to haunt the place where they died. So are people who died by drowning in the ocean super pissed or super happy? Because on the one hand, you would have so much more room to explore than someone who died in a suburban home, but on the other hand, the ocean is pretty empty of human entertainments. There wouldn't be a lot of visitors to haunt, unless you happened to run into Aquaman, but it would provide a level of freedom that's unthinkable in a duplex. Truly, this is a question that should be posed to King Solomon.

Two: if it's possible for ghosts to haunt ghosts then where does it end? In a way, the film's daisy chain of spooks reminded me of the debate over single parenthood in the early 90's, when "babies having babies" was a popular catchphrase that described a theoretically unbroken string of unfortunate events. Are there hard rules on how this purgatory works that would limit the endless cycle of ghost on ghost violence or is it possible that the evil ghost this teenager is running scared from could end up being haunted himself by an even eviler ghost? It's too bad this movie was set in a bland American suburb and not in London or Rome, because I would love to see a pile-up of ghosts, where their serial-killer ghost is then being chased by the ghost of Jack the Ripper or one of the more capricious and violent Roman emperors.

There are a lot of things that frustrated me about this movie - for example, the poor sound design, which leans too much on cliched strings for atmosphere, and it's cinematography, which is often overlit - but the flaw that irritated me the most was the lack of ambition. Most ghost movies start slowly, focusing on their human characters first and then building to the point where the humans meet the ghosts, so a movie that starts with ghosts who have to discover that they are actually dead could have lead to an off kilter movie that would have been legitimately stimulating. But instead of introducing us to the ocean-bound ghosts that spend their days praying that Aquaman will swim by or showing us the alpha ghosts that hunt the predatory ghosts that hunt run of the mill ghosts, this movie was a run of the mill thriller about plucky teen who had to outwit your generic craggy faced serial killer. What a waste.

Winner: Draw

Haunter on IMDB