Every time I say something positive about a “found footage” horror movie, I feel like I’m giving a speech about the awesomeness of communism: some folks might listen, but most people will just hate you. (Note: I am not a communist.)
But while I understand, acknowledge, and (yes) even respect why the general horror crowd is fed up with found footage, the simple truth is that I still find the format really fascinating. Or, let’s say “potentially fascinating,” because even a found footage supporter like myself has to admit that a lot of these movies are, well, crap.
But every once in a while you come across an example of the much-maligned format that’s dark, stark, and intermittently quite compelling. Last year’s Mockingbird, The Sacrament, Afflicted, or The Taking of Deborah Logan would fall under this category in my book, and I’d probably add Adam Mason’s Hangman as an inclusion for the 2015 edition. This is most assuredly a film for found footage fans only, as it will not only fail to win over any new converts, but it may even prove to be maddeningly frustrating for those who dislike the persistently first-person perspective.
As a longtime advocate for this stuff, I mostly enjoyed Hangman.
It’s the story of a plain, normal suburban family who return home from a vacation only to discover that their house has been ransacked – and apparently lived in, as well. Gross… But what the Millers fail to discover are the (seemingly) dozens of hidden cameras that have been stuck into every room. Nor do they seem to realize that they are now the playthings of a mysterious murderer who seems to have an obvious obsession with, well, mercilessly screwing with total strangers. Emotionally, mentally, and (eventually) physically, the Millers are now virtually lab rats in their own home.
It’s the gradual ratcheting of suspense, combined with the mystery regarding what the hell this lunatic’s ultimate goal might be, that helps Hangman survive a few slow spots early on. Strong work from leads Jeremy Sisto and Kate Ashfield help to keep the proceedings realistic with a pair of suitably ‘unguarded’ performances, which is good since they’re on the screen for pretty much the entire film.
Also particularly noteworthy is how Hangman avoids the popular issue of “why don’t they just put the camera down?” Most found footage horror movies put the cameras in the hands of the protagonists, and that can lead to all sorts of annoying questions; this time it’s the antagonist who wields the camera, which of course leads to all sorts of uncomfortably interesting moments of cinematic voyeurism.
Hangman is the eighth feature from director Adam Mason and co-writer Simon Boyes (check out Broken, The Devil’s Chair and/or Blood River), and if it doesn’t exactly re-invent the found footage format, it deserves some kudos for at least trying a new angle, hiring some good actors, and delivering a (yes) slow-burn, screw-tightener that lulls you down a little bit before getting well and truly creepy.
– Scott Weinberg