An effectively creepy spin on found-footage horror, “Hangman” finds a family unwittingly playing host to a malevolent intruder who’s broken into their home — and stayed there, unseen, while watching their every move on surveillance cameras he’s installed. Brit horror specialist Adam Mason’s latest may provide too abrupt a payoff for those genre fans expecting more standard bloody thrills. But the long buildup will strike others as sufficiently, distinctly unnerving, with its emphasis on violated privacy and the oblivious proximity of victims to a maniac practically underfoot. Though “Hangman” will rep a somewhat tricky sell, its surface similarities to home-invasion thrillers and “Paranormal Activity”-type pics should be exploitable enough for some theatrical exposure. As with other superior exercises in found-footage suspense, the feature’s impact will be considerably diminished on the smallscreen.
After a prologue showing the grim denouement of our antagonist’s usual m.o. in a prior family’s home, his camera p.o.v. captures the Millers unknowingly being “chosen” in an airport parking garage. As they go on vacation, the perp (Eric Michael Cole, his seldom-glimpsed reflection usually obscured by face stocking) steals their car, uses its GPS to locate their Los Angeles house, and makes himself at home.
When they return two weeks later, he’s made no attempt to hide his stay — the place has been conspicuously messed about, and an ominous “hanging man” stick figure drawn in ketchup on a bathroom wall. But nothing has apparently been stolen. The police dismiss it all as a prank, or a homeless person seeking temporary shelter. Neither they nor the Millers notice the tiny remote-controlled cameras their visitor has secreted all over the house, let alone the crawlspace operations center he’s created for himself in the attic.
Unease at having their home broken into doesn’t go away, largely because the “guest” keeps leaving nagging signs of his continued residence that the family members automatically, optimistically blame on each other’s carelessness or snooping. He also does more insidious things, like following petulant teen Melanie (Ryan Simpkins) on a date, or putting scary thoughts in the head of young Max (Ty Simpkins) as nocturnal visitor “Jimmy,” whom the boy and his parents think is just a recurrent dream figure. Most deviously, he toys with the family’s psychology by pitting them against each other, whether by making sure Melanie’s hidden bad report card lands on her parents’ bed, or eventually planting “evidence” convincing wife Beth (Kate Ashfield) that her husband, Miles (Jeremy Sisto, also producer and co-editor), is cheating on her.
Using these and other means to ratchet up tension in the home — which he continually watches unfold from his hidey-hole on monitors — the intruder also continually risks discovery, seemingly daring the Millers to trigger that moment when his secret occupancy turns into a full-on bloodbath. Some of the most unnerving sequences here are ones in which Jimmy stands just outside the sightline of the oblivious Millers, his detection (and their lives) hanging by a thread that will break if they simply turn around at the wrong moment.
All this is very credibly and cleverly worked out by Mason and his usual writing partner Simon Boyes. D.p. Tobias Deml’s approximation of a technically sophisticated amateur’s multicamera coverage, as well as the helmer and marquee star’s editing, rise to a conceptual challenge in making this found-footage “Funny Games” equal parts convincing and chilling. Performances are effectively natural, tech/design contributions all very good while necessarily unobtrusive.
SXSW Film Review: 'Hangman'
Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Midnighters), March 15, 2015. Running time: 85 MIN.
An Adam Mason production. Produced by Jeremy Sisto, Mason, Simon Boyes, Mary Church. Co-producers, Matt Kaplan, Robyn Marshall, Stefan Sonnenfield.
Directed by Adam Mason. Screenplay, Mason, Simon Boyes. Camera (color, HD), Tobias Deml; editors, Mason, Jeremy Sisto; music, Antoni Maiovviv; sound, Ben Forman; sound designer, Julian Slater.
Jeremy Sisto, Kate Ashfield, Ty Simpkins, Ryan Simpkins, Eric Michael Cole, Amy Smart, Ross Partridge, Vince Ventresca, Bruno Acalinas, Ethan Harris-Riggs, Jamie Lee.