'Hangman': Film Review

Courtesy of SXSW
A cleverly conceived but less than thrilling horror film.

A family unwittingly falls victim to a home invader who keeps them under constant surveillance in this found-footage suspenser.

Adam Mason's horror film is a home invasion story with a twist. Instead of depicting a family being suddenly besieged by menacing outside forces, Hangman features the novel variation that the home invader is already there. Unfortunately, despite its provocative premise, the film, which recently received its world premiere at SXSW, offers only sporadic moments of creepiness.

Beginning with a black screen and an audio recording of a frantic 911 call to set the ominous atmosphere, the film then introduces us to the Miller family who, upon returning from a vacation, discover that their home has been broken into and ransacked, with the culprit leaving behind such macabre souvenirs as a hanging mannequin.

We soon learn that the intruder (Eric Michael Cole) has never actually left, but rather has set up shop in the attic and rigged the house with a series of all-encompassing video cameras. Cue the Paranormal Activity-style found footage, with the difference being that there's nothing supernatural on display and the perspective is almost entirely that of the psycho's.

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And a genuine psycho he is, as he begins wandering through the house at night with a stocking over his head, spying on parents Aaron (Jeremy Sisto) and Beth (Kate Ashfield) while they're asleep and generally behaving like a malevolent Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. At first his behavior is relatively innocuous, such as when he makes a sandwich for himself in the kitchen or, in one of the more genuinely unsettling moments, casually rifles through a guest's purse during a dinner party while standing just a few feet away from the unsuspecting group.

Unnerved by the constant feeling that something's not quite right in the house and worried for their kids, Marley (Ryan Simpkins) and Max (Ty Simpkins), Beth suggests to her husband that they procure a gun. He promptly brings one home the next day, in an indication that our nation's gun laws are not quite as stringent as they should be.

The intruder, whose damaged emotional state is signaled by such moments as when he begins sobbing uncontrollably while perusing the family photo album, soon begins upping the ante, spying on the couple while they're having sex and later drugging Beth and carrying her unconscious body up the stairs. What happens next is left to our imagination.

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Such ambiguity is one of the film's strengths, with the fact that his motivations are left unexplained only adding to the atmosphere of dread. Unfortunately, much of its running time is consumed by depictions of the family's less than scintillating personal interactions, with the result being long stretches in which nothing very interesting happens.  

Admittedly clever in concept and execution, Hangman ultimately suffers from the tedium endemic to its found-footage style. The climactic final sequences feature more violent action, but by then audiences may well find themselves impatiently waiting for the bad guy to get on with his business and move on to his next victims in the presumably intended sequel.

Production: Energize Students
Cast: Jeremy Sisto, Kate Ashfield, Eric Michael Cole, Ryan Simpkins, Ty Simpkins, Amy Smart
Director: Adam Mason
Screenwriters: Adam Mason, Simon Boyes
Producers: Simon Boyes, Adam Mason, Jeremy Sisto
Executive producer: Mary Church
Director of photography: Tobias Deml
Production designer: Saralyn Tartaglia
Editors: Adam Mason, Jeremy Sisto
Composer: Antoni Maiovvi

Not rated, 85 min.