In the Loop: Haunter

It’s a joke now that we’ve all been repeating the same day over and over for more than a year now. I had been thinking about this and also my unapologetic love of time loop movies.

Welcome to In the Loop, a project where I will write about time loop movies (and on occasion, TV shows) once a week.

Note: I will be writing about all of these movies as if you’ve seen them, so spoilers ahead!

Haunter (2013, directed by Vincenzo Natali)

  • Time until the loop begins: 9 minutes
  • The cause of the loop/inciting incident: Lisa’s death
  • Number of time loops: 5 (6?) in the movie (and it abandons the premise eventually)
  • Lessons learned: Maybe make sure your house isn’t cursed before buying it, or at the very least, check behind your washing machine.

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It’s 1985 and Lisa (Abigail Breslin) keeps waking up on the day before her 16th birthday. Her family is oblivious. While it’s never exactly indicated how long Lisa has been stuck reliving this day, it’s clear from the beginning, it’s been long enough for her to be tired of it.

Well, “reliving” isn’t quite right. As it turns out, Lisa and her entire family are dead. Lisa is doomed to repeat this day until she can uncover the cause of her family’s deaths, and maybe lift the curse of the malevolent spirit that occupies this house.

Haunter too often feels like a collection of ideas — a time loop movie, a reverse haunted house movie, a meditation on generational curses and lingering evil — Brian King’s script never quite brings it all together. There are some neat touches and Breslin’s Lisa, in her Siouxsie and the Banshees T-shirt, is a heroine to root for, but it never feels like it can fully stick to one concept and see it through.

The time loop stuff is the strongest part of this movie. Lisa’s angry resignation about being caught in this situation works well, as does her confusion as small things begin to change (he father smokes! the family isn’t going to watch Murder She Wrote). I liked her sad weariness at the feeling she’ll forever be stuck in the day before her birthday.

I even like the concept that it’s people haunting the house and not ghosts. I do wish Lisa’s connection with Olivia (who, from the style of her bedroom and technology, seems to be in “modern” times) was a bit stronger and it’s definitely a cool touch that Lisa was able to jump into Olivia’s body.

Unfortunately, the further the movie moves away from the time loop concept, the more muddled the plot gets.

It turns out, the house was originally occupied by Edgar Mullins (Stephen McHattie), a murderous young boy who grew up into a murderous adult. After his death, he takes to possessing the fathers of the families in the house, causing them to murder their families. Then there’s some stuff about a hidden door behind the washing machine that leads to a hidden passage and a hidden furnance.

All of that stuff looks cool — this is a pretty stylish movie — but it doesn’t really make sense. Certainly a lot of people seemed to have died in and around this house and no one seemed to notice.  I also question why no one knew about the hidden passage. Does no one do home inspections before buying a house?

I think I’m trying to apply too much logic to something that’s more or less a mood piece. The ending — where all of Edgar’s victims rise up to vanquish him is satisfying (although everyone is already dead, so maybe it’s not that satisfying). It just had too much of a “making it up as it goes” sense about it to fully work.

Had the movie stuck with the time loop, Haunter would’ve been far more interesting than the movie it ended up being. But for a while, it works. And even when it doesn’t really work, it’s still not too bad.

Next week on May 11: Before I Fall

In the Loop logo by Sarah Burnett. If you’d like to support this project, buy one of my Polaroids.