The Horror Honeys: SXSW Review: Hangman

SXSW Review: Hangman

A Head Honey SXSW Review by Kat

Well... you can't win 'em all.

Hangman was on my list of potentially problematic SXSW films mainly because of the way the material was being presented.

Filmed entirely via POV camera interspersed with CC-TV and night vision footage, Hangman made me nervous as soon as the trailer dropped.

*Warning* Spoilers ahead... because you then you don't have to see it.

The story (edited for POV realism): Returning from vacation, the Miller family find that their home has been broken into, however nothing has been stolen (at least not from what they can see), and the house has been altered in subtle ways that are actually really creepy, as if someone has been living in the house while they were away. After the wife cleans up all of the mess while everyone else in the family goes on with their lives, all feelings of unease or that special feeling of being violated after a break-in are dismissed. They don't even seem to have a "family chat" about what happened. But little do they know, the nightmare has just begun, and the audience at the screenings I attended seemed to feel similarly.

REALLY? What "true events" were those?
Did they forget to tell us about the ACTUAL events or is this just bullshit?
I call bullshit.
I've never walked out of a film. I don't know that I ever will, and I'm stunned that people actually do that when cast and crew is in attendance at a screening.  Ruuuude. Pro Tip: Do your research and don't be a douche.

That being said, if I was watching this at home, I would have turned it off. I don't know if that's better or worse.

They actually make a GREAT screen couple.
Opening with a 911 call and a black screen, the audience is forced to imagine what's happening, which is a great way to start a film that's supposed to be tense and suspenseful, however, it can also backfire when the majority of the action that's happening via audio is action based and the audience has no frame of reference, and no characters to attach voices or sympathy to. After this disorienting start, the POV action begins as our camera wielding "narrator" walks through a house with a night vision camera tormenting a panicked woman as a hanged male figure swings gently in the background. Smash cut to a different day, as we are once again in the POV hot seat as our stalker follows a family at the airport and steals their car. Conveniently, they have an easy to use GPS system, which leads Captain POV straight back to their home. Once there, he breaks into the house via a smashed window and proceeds to set up cameras in and around the house.

Issues: Getting the car back to the airport parkade, parking it in the exact same space, paying for parking with credit card (because that's the only way to do it now), picking up his OWN car loaded with camera equipment and all the shit he needs to carry out his little POV game.

Issue for me: Mouth breathing. If I can hear you breathing while you're holding the camera, you need to close your damn mouth. It's why you have a nose.

Returning from their vacation to discover that their house has been completely flipped over, The Miller family, actually doesn't freak out as much as would have probably actually happened in real life. If you've ever had your house/apartment/condo broken into, it's utterly devastating. Someone has violated your personal space, your safe bubble, and willfully exercised power over you without your consent. It's a violation, and it's a selfish violation. Home invasion films aren't my jam. I immediately hate this dude.

As the police and pretty much everyone else seem to regard the situation as fairly normal, life continues while mom (a criminally shallow character for Shaun of the Dead's Kate Ashfield) is left to clean up the mess - you're going to have to forgive the fact that I don't have character names, as the IMDb page for the film is a mess, and I've honestly forgotten the names of the family members except for the children, Marley and Jack.
Films that torment children as part of the 'action' aren't awesome. 

Unbeknownst to The Millers, their intruder, whom they had assumed had left the house, has actually moved in upstairs; in fact, he's got a whole "video village" style surveillance HQ up in the attic. It's actually unclear just how long the action of the film takes. While some film establish their timelines in annoying ways by using days of the week, or random hours to indicate the passage of time, Hangman would have benefitted from *some* kind of framework aside from night vision instances, because even those were difficult to puzzle out as happening on different days.

What worked: The calmness with which the intruder stalks, invades and absorbs himself into the lives of his victims. His control over the family is completely measured, and his process is well thought out. The audience I saw the film with were creeped out by the way he inserted himself into family situations without them knowing that he was there. Which is incredible when one of the characters is a fastidious housewife. Sisto does his level best to really connect with the script and the story, and I'll give him credit for being the one bright spot of the film. One segment that was also extremely effective when it came to the use of POV and Night vision and CC-TV together was the solitary sex scene in the film, it was both sensual and extremely creepy and uncomfortable at the same time. Also... it was kind of hot.

One of the only creepy moments in the film, as seen in the TRAILER.
Everything else: All of the good ideas explored by Hangman were unfortunately ruined moments after they were presented. Opportunities for deeper exploration into the character of the intruder were clumsily executed and came off as pathetic and out of place instead of shocking and disturbing. Attempts to drive a wedge between Sisto and Ashfield's characters were poorly timed and completely unnecessary, but thanks to a weak script, they worked immediately, which also annoyed me.

I think what disappointed me the most was the set up of the intense attachment of the intruder to the family that reached a level of kidnapper-style ownership, only to have it ruined literally minutes later as the intruder completes his cycle and moves on to the next family. Literally. Moves. On.

I'm aware that having no motive to commit crime is a very scary thing. The media tries to explain away instances of this happening by slapping the label of "history of mental illness" onto the accused criminal. Sometimes that makes it easier to swallow. What Hangman attempted to do was to take the "no motive" killer and use it as a solid foundation for a horror film, which is fine, in theory. However, in execution, Hangman tied its own noose.

Head Honey verdict: 2 painfully awkward underage vibrator discoveries out of 5