How effective a transformation has Abigail Breslin made as an actress? Well, let’s just say I watched the entirety of Haunter yesterday without ever remembering that she was that little girl Olive in Little Miss Sunshine. In Haunter she gets to play the ultimate bored, disaffected teenager. A lot of kids say “Everything’s always the same, we never do anything different” but in the case of Lisa Johnson and her family, it is literally true. Reminiscent of Groundhog Day, they’re all stuck on the same Sunday in 1986 and Lisa is the only one who notices. It turns out they’re all ghosts.
This isn’t a spoiler — it’s right up there on the poster, and in the title of the movie, but I had the best possible experience watching it because I’d forgotten that was the premise, and so I got to experience the discovery as the character did. And while the movie certainly contains its moments of thrills, suspense and horror, it could best be categorized as a mystery, as Johnson unravels layer after layer of the reality of her own predicament, and the evil force that placed her there (Stephen McHattie at his creepiest). If this battle between a sweet, adorable child ghost and a bigger, meaner bogey man evokes Caspar, the screenplay’s greatest brilliance is how Breslin’s character’s dawning awareness echoes that of all adolescents as they suddenly begin to notice the lies, ugliness, and danger that lurk just beyond the veil of childhood. Her heroism in facing it down is an exhilarating fantasy.
Haunter opens today in New York at the IFC Center, and nationwide on demand.
Here’s the trailer: