Call it one kind of hell on earth: In “Haunter,” 15-year-old Lisa is the only member of her Reagan-era suburban family who realizes that they are reliving the same day, over and over. Yet, unlike Bill Murray’s weatherman in “Groundhog Day,” they are absolutely, positively dead. And the lingering menace in this serviceable ghost story from the director Vincenzo Natali and the screenwriter Brian King is that things could actually get worse.
Lisa (Abigail Breslin) exists in a picture-perfect house with routines that are like a mild adolescent parody of family banality: Mom assigns chores and summons her for sit-down meals; Dad is square and nice; her little brother wakes her up every morning with a walkie-talkie squawk. When Lisa (wholesome, not bratty, in Ms. Breslin’s hands) questions the supernatural order of things, the film’s boogeyman emerges, along with the macabre underpinnings of the past.
The implication of life after death as a risky search for meaning subtly refreshes the notion of eternal suffering, even if the movie is itself haunted by influences from “Poltergeist” to “Insidious.” Another undertow is generated by the specter of fatherly rage.
Mr. Natali muscles his frights, along with flashes of light and close-ups, freely shuffling between ghostly dimensions. But this director of “Cube” and the bigger, bonkers “Splice” scales the ambitions of his new movie appropriately, even cautiously. And lifted by the sepulchral Stephen McHattie as Lisa’s nemesis, the film’s frazzled thought experiment becomes an adequate yarn.