Director Vincenzo Natali (Splice, Cube) premiered his new film, Haunter, from Copperheart Entertainment, last night at the SXSW film festival in Austin, TX. Starring Abigail Breslin (Zombieland, Rango, Little Miss Sunshine), Stephen McHattie (300, Watchmen, Immortals, Pontypool), Peter Outerbridge (Silent Hill: Revelation, Lucky Number Slevin), Michelle Nolden (Red, Time Traveler’s Wife) and David Hewlett (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). It’s an inventive take on the haunted house genre and I look forward to sharing my review with you in a day or so.
In the film “Teenage Lisa (Breslin) and her family died in 1986 under sinister circumstances but remain trapped in their house, unable to move on. Lisa must reach out from beyond the grave to help her present-day, living counterpart, Olivia, avoid the same fate Lisa and her family suffered.”
Directed by Natali from a screenplay written by Brian King (Cypher, Night Train), the film is produced by Steven Hoban (Splice, Ryan, Ginger Snaps trilogy) and co-produced by Mark Smith (388 Arletta Avenue, The Spine).
For the first part of the movie you’re portraying variations of the same day, what’s the trick to keeping it engaging?
I’ve done this kind of thing before because it’s very much born out of low budget filmmaking. I’ve done a few films that were very much just on one set with a few characters. And the trick is, I believe, to find variations on a theme. Which is interesting to me because blocking a movie is always about establishing space and time, so if you’re in one setting it actually gives you more freedom to do interesting things cinematically.
One of the things I really liked about the script was how Brian [King; screenwriter] was able to narratively reconfigure the days so when one aspect is different, it creates an unsettling effect. There’s one scene where the father, who is a perfect 1980’s dad, all of the sudden starts smoking. And there’s something deeply unsettling about that, which I liked.
The house isn’t a typical “haunted house” like you see in so many films. How did you go about finding it?
There’s a little bit of John Hughes DNA in here because it’s an upper middle class family. And we decided very early on that we wanted a Georgian house, we didn’t want a gothic house with arched doorways and angled lines, we wanted everything to be square and symmetrical. It flies a little bit in the face of convention. The problem is that there are very few Georgian houses in Toronto, we scoured everything within a 100 mile radius and only found one house that suited our purposes. So we were allowed to use that as an exterior and we completely reconfigured what the interior would be. It was a very specific thing that we wanted and struggled to get.
How did you establish that familial chemistry between the leads?
In prepping the film, I stole a trick from Francis Coppola, which is to bring the actors who portray the family together and have them make a meal. They made mac and cheese together for a day and stayed a day together, and I think that had a real impact actually.
Lisa [Abigail Breslin] is almost positioned as a rebellious teen, so the audience is primed to not believe her for the first bit of the film. “Maybe she’s railing against the conformity of suburbia and is acting out.”
In Brian’s script I loved how her character evolved because she is sort of a bitchy, irritable teenager who – from the parents’ prospective – could just be acting out. But she knows she’s telling the truth. Which in a way is a metaphor for adolescence because she knows what’s “really going on” and her parents don’t have a clue. And her character sort of evolves into a younger and more innocent person as the film goes on, which makes her endearing.
The third act of this film also differs visually from a lot of haunted house movies. You opted for a bright, colorful and kinetic aesthetic. What was the impetus behind that?
As much as it’s a haunted house story, it’s also a time travel story. It traverses these different strata of time in the house, and I wanted to distinguish each time period with its own look. I thought it would be interesting if the present day, which we see towards the end of the film, felt more like the future. Which it almost is anyway, I feel like we’re in a science fiction reality. So I actually lit it a little bit like a sci-fi movie.