While the horror genre has continued to wander in and out of our theaters, and Netflix streams, there have been very few lately that have the ability to leave any sort of mark for its fan base. Independent horror has seen a devoted increase over the last several years with many new filmmakers entering the scene if only for their film to be shown at one or two festivals. Zombie television is okay and possession scares on the big screen can grow old, but to take conventions from fifty years of horror thrillers that we love – I Saw What You Did And Know Who You Are, Black Christmas, When a Stranger Calls, Scream and Saw – and tie their principle elements (and best ones) into one recycled premise well then you have Don’t Hang Up.
Recycled as it may be, the film’s plot is actually refreshing; taking the simplicities of some of these earlier films, and working them into a pseudo-2017 era. With a limited theatrical run, but available on iTunes for rental or purchase, Don’t Hang Up has brought back something missing from genre fare. It has turned those horror clichés upside down and even succeeds in making the home phone, cell phone, computers, and our reliance on internet and Wi-Fi scary again! I can’t remember the last time a horror film was able to utilize all those things, even making a Smart TV scary when it turns on and off, while furthering the plot and enhancing the tension. In fact, the oldest trick, or should I say prank, in the book is turning the lights out. You think the dark can’t be scary anymore? It can always be scary especially in your own home. This film actually succeeded in drawing the viewer into it, laying the framework for your mind to start trying to figure out who the murderer is and how the characters actions influence their fates.
Keep reading after the trailer
Everybody has done pranks, phone calls, or other nasty jokes that ultimately ends up getting them in trouble one way or another. Enter our two main characters: Sam Fuller (Gregg Sulkin, Anti-Social) and Brady Mannion (Garrett Clayton, King Cobra, Hairspray Live – talk about diversity of roles! A future Zac Efron perhaps?); these two college frat pranksters are having the time of their lives along with their other two buddies in causing fear among many an unsuspecting victim. Running a successful feed of YouTube videos, these boys are drawing viewers in by the masses by preying on the fear they temporarily instill upon both guys and girls. While the film runs the risk of alienating the characters and making them unsympathetic, especially Clayton’s Brady, it takes enough time to show that Sam actually has feelings and dealing with relationship troubles with his girlfriend Peyton (Bella Dayne, The Goldbergs, Person of Interest) and even the absence of his parents. But it is the biggest dick of them all, Brady, who has the most baggage that is likely causing his behavior, when we learn of his lack of parental attention, failing grades, and wanting to escape it all by proving he can be something more to his parents by joining the Army. No sooner are they back in the prank calling action while chugging beer and munching down pizza when it is Sam’s phone that rings with an ominous male voice that has decided he’s going to turn the tides on them. If you think it is Scream all over again, you’re wrong, this guy literally toys with these guys – with that toying turning to torture once he reveals just how close he is to them, friends, and family. The fact that this film right away tosses the virginal-girl-in-trouble protagonist out the window and gives us two guys that are suddenly stripped of their egotistical masculinity, and made vulnerable, is grounds for immediate applause to Screenwriter Joe Johnson and the Directorial Duo of Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot.
After the opening credits, one still has to wonder what they can expect from the acting especially when you have the fratboy, college nuances blatantly overacted at almost every turn. Turn it does though by fifteen minutes into the film, with Sulkin giving his most over to the part and finding that internal innocence that has now being violated. Despite the asshole that you do love to hate in Brady, Clayton’s teary puppy dog eyes when the character is at his most emotionally unstable, can’t NOT garner a bit of sympathy that yearns to help him and his friend out of this dire situation. That is yet another great thing about the film that it can warrant that type of response from the viewer where even though you know the guys deserve a good kick-in-the-ass and scare, the extremes they are put in now bring the fundamentals of their very humanity to the surface.
The cinematography is phenomenal, especially given the limited resume of the Directors, and the shots used immediately set the tone, environment, and pace; bringing us up close and personal in times of trauma for our characters, and far away for shots that make even the bravest viewer squirm not knowing where the killer is lurking. Sometimes with an independent production, certain values are compromised whether it is picture or sound but both are clean and crisp; the contrasts appropriate for the murky atmosphere that envelopes over the course of the film and the sounds from creaking floors and moving doors provide enough additional tension to keep an eye over your own shoulder.
Just when I thought that I knew what was going to happen, the film took a turn and gave me something more than I bargained for. Without spoiling it, I will say that even the experienced horror fan that could likely put the pieces together, won’t totally be sure until the final reveal and even small things, nothing original by any means, are placed just right where you are still clinging to the seat with your eyes locked onto the screen.
It is too bad that the film was not able to get a wide release, because it is exactly what the horror genre needs more of. It brings back the heyday of horror happenings. The tension is there. The horror is there. The blood is even most certainly there. There is no skimping on the carnage suffered by the victims or even the protagonists for that matter.
Lastly, it was a bonus to see Sienna Guillory (Resident Evil: Retribution) in the cast, with her part having an extremely vital role in establishing the storyline and more specifically, what the viewer and our characters are about to endure. It is with great pleasure that I say don’t skip it because when a genre entry like this comes calling, you don’t hang up!