OCTOBER 14, 2015
I've lived in my current place for exactly a year now (why I opted to move in October is a decision I will never understand), and I have yet to actually enter the "attic" that is accessible from the hallway connecting the bedrooms upstairs. I only own a little painter's ladder that's not nearly tall enough for me to get in there or even look around, and I usually have more pressing matters to deal with, so I just never bother to find a way up there. Best I can tell it's not tall enough for me to stand up in (even my infant son might bump his noggin), but it still kind of weirds me out, that there's this entire area of the place I live that I've never actually seen. And that may be why Hangman worked on me, because the home invader sets up shop in a similar (larger) attic space that no one in the house ever seems to check thoroughly.
Unfortunately the cops also neglect to give it a good once over, I guess, because otherwise the movie would be over pretty quickly. For reasons I'm not sure I totally understand, the guy trashes the place after setting up his cameras and attic "bedroom", instead of just leaving it as is so they wouldn't suspect a thing. Luckily for him, the cops that are called to investigate the break-in apparently don't check the attic, so I guess he was either VERY daring or just knew from experience that the LAPD tends to be lazy (I've lost count at how many times I've seen someone blow through a red light right in front of a cop who ultimately did nothing). Still, I wish director Adam Mason had justified this behavior in some way.
Oh, yes, that's the same Adam Mason who made Broken, which I dubbed the most worthless movie I had ever seen (and I watched it after coming home from Screamfest, if memory serves), and whose other two films I had seen showed little improvement. That, plus two warnings from trusted friends had me thinking this would be a disaster, but I must admit it had me spooked more than once. There are a couple of moments where you're watching a long take of the parents sleeping or something and then suddenly you realize that the Hangman has been sitting/standing there watching the whole time (night vision + unfamiliar room = your eye isn't naturally drawn to a completely motionless figure wearing all black), and I love shit like that. And it's thankfully short on violence; Broken in particular was one of those movies that equated torture with terror, but here there's almost none, and what little there is tends to be pretty quick. The film's opening, showing the Hangman finishing up at the last family's house (i.e. killing them) before moving on to this new one is a bit torture-y, with screaming and a knife being grazed along a terrified woman's body, but that's as harsh as it gets.
It's also surprisingly funny. If there's one justification for Hangman trashing the joint, it would be for the runner about dad Jeremy Sisto finding his daughter's vibrator when he goes to check her room. It could have been just that one gag, but it keeps coming back - she later asks if he "found anything" when he went in her room, and then he tells the mom about it and they make jokes - it's kind of endearing. The family unit is much more believable than many of these things; Paranormal Activity 2 in particular kept coming to mind (due to the x number of fixed cameras, but also the kitchen was very similar) as one where they didn't really FIT, but they had a trump card here - the kids are actually siblings. It's Ty Simpkins from the Insidious movies and his sister Ryan, and while they aren't the focus as much as the parents, their very (obviously) natural brother-sister love/hate dynamic works great, and as the parents Sisto and Kate Ashfield are also believably in the 16th or so year of their marriage.
Unfortunately an important part of the plot requires Ashfield to be home "alone" for big chunks of the runtime, because the Hangman eventually plants evidence to make it look like Sisto is having an affair (with a character played by Amy Smart, who is never seen close enough to know that it's Amy Smart*). So obviously Sisto's character is always off working late (which is usually movie shorthand for characters that really ARE having affairs), and she has to be the sort of movie housewife that is constantly collecting laundry from around the house and finding incriminating things (lipstick on the collar in this case). It's kind of a weak subplot, and in the post movie Q&A (moderated by some jerk) Sisto admitted that this family drama should have been worked into the movie earlier, since the movie has a big hurdle to clear - it feels long. The scares all work, but they're also a bit repetitive, and there's a lot of fat between them (SPOILERS AHEAD - skip to next paragraph if you wish!). There's a subplot with the daughter's boyfriend that seems to exist solely to give the movie a kill, and I couldn't help but wonder if the movie would have "needed" it if they had just moved things along a little faster. Or they could just trust in the audience enough to not demand bloodshed and delete him entirely, which would bring the runtime down a bit. Don't get me wrong - it's only 85 minutes, which is normal feature length, but for something like this, where you're looking at identical camera angles and a minimal cast the whole time, even 3-4 minutes could make a huge difference.
Speaking of the fixed angles, having the villain be in charge of the camera is a godsend, as no one has to pick up a camera to investigate a noise or whatever, but while that logic is sound some of their actions are not. Even when they know someone has broken into the house, they're a bit too cavalier about weird things that occur after that, like a vase disappearing and the OJ being on the counter when they go downstairs in the morning. There are three separate moments where the wife will inquire about something weird and Sisto's like "Hmm? I dunno." and not, you know: "Oh shit we still have a burglar problem!" As I've said a million times, horror movies kind of require that we drop our guard a bit when it comes to logic, but when it's a found footage-y type like this the problem is exacerbated, since it's being presented as reality. And the irony is, for these movies the logic problems are usually "why are they filming?" but in this one they're NOT so we end up back in the same spot we are for traditionally shot films. I have no answers for how to work around these things (they can't be too paranoid because they'll find the guy, but he has to do SOMETHING or else there's no movie), but I can say it's certainly a red flag for the movie, and the sort of thing that probably resulted in those friends all but begging me not to go see it.
But I think they were being ridiculous. Considering my very negative attitude toward Mason's other movies, I was certainly prepared to join their chorus, but I realized quickly that it was a lot better than they had led me to believe. Perfect? No, not even "great" - but for what it set out to do (creep you out, make you fear drinking from a previously opened bottle of wine, etc), I think it did it well, and as a fan of Alone With Her, I liked seeing another one along those lines as opposed to typical hand-held blandness. And it was still getting to me a bit hours later; I realized this morning that I never actually went into my office last night after coming home (as I usually do), and suddenly the movie's idea of someone hiding in plain sight in your home got spooky to me all over again. Hangman coulda been in there all night! *Buys ladder*
What say you?
*The character's extremely limited role in the movie led to a confused audience member thinking that the wife was accusing him of having an affair with their daughter, i.e. the only other female in the movie. That was pretty funny.