Director: Adam Mason
Writer: Adam Mason, Simon Boyes
Producer: Jeremy Sisto, Simon Boyes, Adam Mason, Mary Church
Stars: Jeremy Sisto, Kate Ashfield, Ty Simpkins, Ryan Simpkins, Eric Michael Cole, Vincent Ventresca, Bruno Acalinas, Jamie Lee, Armando Molina, Ethan Harris-Riggs, Amy Smart, Ross Partridge
A serial killer silently stalks an unsuspecting family while secretly living inside their home.
Throwing shade at “found footage” is often done on principle alone due to the perceived oversaturation of the POV subgenre. Yet while “Hangman” travels through the tried and true tropes of green-tinted night vision, cycling surveillance cameras, and a 911 call played against a black background, the film doesn’t necessarily deserve to drown with the usual suspects of quick and dirty cash-ins squeezing the last exploitive dimes from the once strong first-person horror boom. “Hangman” in fact has honest intentions to be a streamlined, effective “found footage” thriller. Trouble is, its featured figure and final execution can’t peak the premise above its uneventful parts.
With a camcorder in hand and a system of surreptitious cameras monitored from a secret suite, serial killer Hangman has a horrible habit of breaking into homes and existing in the shadows as an imaginary member of the family. The Millers become his latest targets when Hangman records the unsuspecting model family preparing to leave on holiday at Bob Hope Airport. Hangman breaks into the Millers’ minivan, uses its GPS to locate their address, and then makes himself at home, setting up shop in the attic where he can silently watch their everyday activities as an initially passive pervert upon their return.
The Millers realize their residence has been ransacked as soon as they open the front door. This means that the Hangman is exceptionally slick. Presumably, he drove the Millers’ stolen car back to the airport, parked it in the exact same spot, and replaced its garage ticket with an identical time stamp since they apparently noticed nothing out of the ordinary with their vehicle.
Cleanup commences and regular routines resume. But curious clues continually suggest that the Miller home has not exactly resumed normalcy. Inexplicably moving furniture, automatically flushing toilets, bottles left out of the refrigerator, and confounding noises point to a phantom houseguest the family doesn’t know they have. By day, Hangman stalks the Millers unseen. By night, he looms over their beds while they sleep. As with previous victims, a point is certain to come when quiet observation and daring intrusions are no longer satisfying. That is when Hangman brings out his knife and the rope.
When it works, “Hangman” blends a strange brew of quiet creep movies like “One Hour Photo” and “The Poughkeepsie Tapes.” Its murdering maniac wears a Francis Dolarhyde pantyhose mask and operates without a defined modus operandi, similar to the home invaders of “The Strangers.” In theory, Hangman’s unknown purpose and faceless visage should make him a chilling terror. In practice, he instead reads like a college dormitory jokester.
The Hangman’s missing motive makes him eerie until you start wondering why he routinely risks detection by tiptoeing around beds every night just so he can spit in the Millers’ orange juice or brush his teeth in their sink. An introductory scene makes it clear that Hangman is a delusional danger capable of grisly violence. But that fact is gradually forgotten the more he plays hide and seek with flower vases, rifles through report cards, leafs through photo albums, and fixes himself sandwiches. Although bookended by a pair of frightful sequences, the main meat of “Hangman” is almost completely devoid of anything genuinely nerve rattling.
The Miller mother catches on to a possible intruder after finding a picture of a shadowy figure drawn by her son. Max claims that “Jimmy” visits him in his dreams, revealing secrets he isn’t supposed to share with anyone. A child confusing a real-life boogeyman for a make-believe one is a well-worn horror movie staple. Usually, this plot device comes in the form of a four-year-old whose wild stories can be ignored by adults as products of an overactive mind. Its employment in “Hangman” might be forgiven if Max were not played by Ty Simpkins, a child actor whose age hits 14 during the movie’s release year. This is a “kid” certainly old enough to know the difference between a figment of his imagination and a masked serial killer sitting on the edge of his bed.
The film’s finale is jarring, but so much air comes out of the tires on the journey there that the audience doesn’t benefit from the full effect of the jolts. Coming across as more of a prank-playing wimp instead of a fearsome force of faceless fright, the Hangman himself doesn’t have enough bite to make a case for his movie being an exception to the seeming rule that “found footage” is more often forgettable than it is worth watching.
Review Score: 45