Saturday night’s Newport Beach Film Festival Horror Showcase began with an excellent series of short films (a compilation titled Nightmare on Short Street, which you can read our review of here) and ended with a late night showing of Adam Mason’s Hangman. I enjoyed most of Nightmare on Short Street. I did not enjoy Hangman.
Full disclosure: this review is going to be chock full of SPOILERS, because I want to
destroy discuss certain plot related things, and because I figured I’d save you the trouble of watching Hangman yourself — however if you feel the need to ignore me and watch it for yourself ANYWAY, you should maybe avoid this until you’ve already done so. Here goes:
The picture perfect Miller family — mother, father, daughter, son, white picket fence, but oddly enough no dog — return home from a vacation to find their home ransacked. The police tell them it was probably some squatters who broke in and lived in their house while they were out, but that they’re gone now and likely won’t come back. A few weeks of horror later, the Millers find out how wrong they were.
So: extended home invasion, family pushed to the edge of their sanity, a villain who psychologically torments his victims before finally pulling the trigger (or, in this case, tying the noose). Decent set-up, right?
Tell me why, then, we’re instead given an ineffective antagonist that seemed perfectly content to play juvenile grade-school level pranks on the family for the majority of the movie before finally killing them in the last five minutes. Hocking loogies into juice jugs, planting bad report cards, flushing toilets and then running and hiding as a bewildered Miller family member tries to figure out what’s going on. All the while, he alternates between comically heavy breathing and cry-masturbating. This is one of the most un-scary villains that I’ve ever seen.
Scenes where the Hangman (as I’ll be calling him throughout this review, even though the hangman motif is abandoned pretty quickly) violently sobs over family albums are meant to get you to empathize with his inner turmoil. Poor lil guy, he doesn’t have a family of his own and wants to be loved so badly that he butchers other peoples’ families so he can insert himself in that fantasy! Gosh, I’ve never seen that motivation in a movie before.
The victims aren’t much better, because the Horror Movie White Family Stereotypes are mighty strong with this one. Everyone falls into their tired, overdone genre roles pretty quickly; Beth (Kate Ashfield) is the seemingly paranoid wife who keeps noticing odd things going on around the house, and Aaron (Jeremy Sisto) is her strangely unconcerned “no no, wife, there is nothing at all wrong here in this very obviously still occupied house” husband.
I have no idea what was going on with the youngest kid, who kinda felt like he was supposed to fall into the “little kid who talks to ghosts/bad guys” trope, only he was way too old to be having nightmares and drawing pictures of his imaginary friends. Was the Hangman literally walking into his room at night to chat to him about his parent’s marital issues? And this dumb ass preteen didn’t think there was anything strange about it?
Once again media gives us a truly awful depiction of a teenage girl, what with the screaming temper tantrums, constant texting, and complete disregard for anyone other than herself. Yes, teenagers can be a little self-centered at times, but I highly doubt any well-adjusted, moderately unspoiled child is going to call her mother a “drama queen” for freaking out about the house having been broken into. This reeks of lazy writing.
And speaking of lazy writing, plot points kept getting dropped left and right. The Hangman drugs Beth to make her look like a wino, but only once, and it didn’t even lead to a fight between Beth and Aaron like I expected. There is no payoff with the fake cheating scandal, one of the biggest things he’s done to mess with them; the Hangman doesn’t even let that situation play itself out, instead choosing that exact moment to start killing.
Dead bodies will just disappear with no explanation. Are you telling me the handyman’s family didn’t report him missing after days of not seeing him? Or that police didn’t go to the Millers’ house to ask them about it, since theirs was the last place he was seen? No one stumbled across Marley’s boyfriend’s body, even though he was killed and left in the bathroom of a very public and crowded park?
Characters will consistently make stupid choices, like going up alone into the dark attic with a gun that you don’t know how to use. There’s obviously no other way out of the there besides that one entry point, so why wouldn’t you just stay underneath it, aim the gun at the hole, and wait for the police to come back you up? But no no, that would be too reasonable.
I kept expecting (read: hoping) that the film’s pattern of “Hangman does a prank, Hangman almost gets caught, Hangman snivels on camera” would switch up, but it never did. The movie just… ends. The film’s sluggish burn attempted to create a creepy vibe, like we could somehow see the killer’s mindset by way of what’s on his camera, but it’s not enough.
Actually, the found footage perspective flip was one of the few things I found interesting about the film; as explained in the Q&A portion following the screening, it neatly solved the issue of typical found footage films, where you find yourself wondering why people are still filming once shit goes down. Here, it’s the villain filming, and he wants to record everything. It’s an interesting take that I don’t think I’ve seen before, and I just wish it had been executed better, with tighter writing and a more effective antagonist.
Honestly, Hangman was just painfully bad and excruciating to get through. As someone who enjoys home intruder slasher type films and usually roots for the killer to come out of hiding so the action can kick off, here I just wanted the killing to start so the movie would end. And end it did.