Horror films generally reveal the killer's motive at some point towards the story's conclusion, which provides closure for the audience. The Strangers was advertised with the terrifying notion that there is no reason for the torment, which makes what occurs much more horrifying. A home invasion could realistically happen to anybody, making it a tremendously effective sub-genre. However, since they're so cheap to make, there are countless films that simply follow the formula, and fail to instill any sense of fear in the audience. Writer/director Adam Mason and co-writer Simon Boyes are taking a stab with their handheld SXSW Film Festival 2015 accepted film Hangman.
After returning home from vacation, the Miller family find that their home has been broken into. After cleaning up the mess, they continue with their lives, but are forced to cope with this inevitable feeling of being violated. Little do they know, the intruder never left, and has been watching their every move. Left incredibly vulnerable, the nightmare has only just begun.
Hangman begins with an incredibly eerie prologue, featuring the killer (Eric Michael Cole) finishing the job with a different family. It's an excellent way to start the film, as it displays that this isn't the mysterious figure's first time committing such crimes. Most home invasion flicks tell the story from the victims' perspective, as they fight for survival. Mason and Boyes' screenplay entirely follows the killer himself. Once the Miller family returns home, he takes residence in their attic after having set up cameras around the house. This allows him to always watch the family, whether they're eating dinner or sleeping at night. He doesn't speak much, although his obsession for the wife (Kate Ashfield) is clear. He greatly enjoys watching her perform mundane tasks. We never learn much about him, outside of the fact that he begins crying and screaming when he comes upon family photos and a music box. This perhaps tells us of a hard childhood and family life, feeling the need to move from one family to the next. There are numerous clues about the killer's past, but nothing is directly stated to the audience, making for a much more creepy atmosphere.
The mysterious elements of Hangman are successful, although it enjoys its minimalism a little bit too much. Those looking for a constant sense of dread throughout the picture will be massively disappointed. If you thought that the first Paranormal Activity was slow-moving, then you just might think that this one isn't moving at all. With the exception of the first and the last few minutes, the majority of the feature's duration is taken up by family drama. Aaron (Jeremy Sisto) and his wife have marital issues that escalate after the home invasion takes place, while their children (Ryan Simpkins and Ty Simpkins) struggle with typical adolescent problems. It really isn't all that interesting, especially when it's all being viewed via cameras hidden throughout the house. The initial tension found in the beginning of the picture ultimately wears off, and we're left with a film that fills its duration with mundane conversations and actions. By the time that the feature finally escalates, the audience has already become tired of waiting for something to happen.
While there are some inventive aspects to Hangman, the majority of it is strikingly familiar. However, the ratio of things happening during the day compared to those occurring during the night is interesting. Most horror flicks out there thrive in their nighttime sequences, although there are some particularly eerie things that take place during the day here. It's just a shame that this isn't utilized further. Perhaps the biggest problem that this feature has is that it drags. There are far too many lulls, pulling the audience out of any tension that could have been present. Mason and Boyes have the clear intention of creating a grand payoff to all of the waiting, but it's hardly worth the amount of patience required to get there.
The most unique aspect of Hangman is its visual design. While the entire film is captured in a found-footage style, it's from the perspective of the killer. It makes a lot more sense for him to be filming his sick crimes, than it would be for the family to randomly film their day-to-day lives, as they do in most other modern horror flicks. This also allows the picture to come across as being much more personal, making the audience feel helpless to the ominous danger that lurks within the shadows of this innocent family. The decision to not have a score is a smart one, as it allows the videos to feel more like we're watching real records of what happened, rather than a motion picture. It makes it feel like we're unsafe by simply viewing. The sound effects are extremely limited, as there isn't even as much as a Paranormal Activity-esque rumble.
Writer/director Adam Mason has created a wildly unique visual style that feels all too real. However, if you take that away, we're left with a familiar home invasion flick that doesn't stray from the tired formula. While occasionally eerie, the film thrives on mundane family drama that hardly holds an ounce of tension. Quality should always be considered over quantity, but the payoff simply isn't worth all of the waiting that's required to get there. If nothing else, Mason and co-writer Simon Boyes have created a stalker that is sure to hit a nerve. It's not a horrible film, but it had the potential to be so much more than it is. Hangman is a creepy invasion, although its noose is tied a bit too loosely. Rent it.
Hangman played at SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 14th, March 15th, and March 18th.