Happy Halloween: Don't Hang Up (2017) Review
Director(s): Alexis Wajsbrot and Damien Mace
Cast: Garrett Clayton, Gregg Sulkin, Bella Dayne
The main difference between a good slasher film and a bad one is quite simple. A good slasher film is scary because it gets you invested in the characters. You care about them, you want to see them live, and are frightened when they’re placed in jeopardy. In contrast, a bad slasher movie has you rooting for the killer, mainly because the characters on screen are so obnoxious, unlikable, or annoyingly stupid (or all of the above) that you want to see them put out of their misery. After four minutes into Don’t Hang Up, it became very clear which kind of slasher movie this one was going to be.
The movie tells the story of four high school douchebags who spend their free time pranking innocent people and posting their pranks on an online vlog. In the film’s opening, we see one of their pranks in action, and they allow it to go way too far. Basically, they call a woman up at 3 o’clock in the morning, pretending to be the police, and telling her that they have her house surrounded because two dangerous fugitives are hiding in her house. When they tell her that her daughter is in jeopardy, she flips out and drops the phone, so that she doesn’t hear it when they say, “You’ve been pranked, bitch!”
Some of their other pranks include calling someone up and giving them a false cancer diagnosis, telling a man that his wife has been killed, and nearly getting their friend who works at a pizza joint savagely beaten by an irate home owner. Given that they do not hide their identities on their vlog, and given that we know how one of their pranks turned out, it’s a wonder these kids haven’t gotten in trouble with the cops yet. Either the local police are just stupid, or they just don’t care.
The movie then centers on two of the pranksters, Sam Fuller (Gregg Sulkin) and the insufferable Brady Mannion (Garrett Clayton). Sam is feeling a little blue because his relationship with his girlfriend Peyton (Bella Dayne) is on the rocks, and because Sam’s parents are out of town for the weekend (Aren’t they always in movies like this?), Brady plans to cheer him up with a night of movie watching and phone pranks. During one of their pranks, they attract the attention of a mysterious figure who calls himself Mr. Lee. He doesn’t appreciate what they do to people, and plans to turn the tables on them in horrifying ways.
Now this Mr. Lee is quite an interesting character. He has somehow managed to gain control over every light in Sam’s house, has hacked into Sam’s laptop and even (no joke) his TV, as he frequently plays internet videos on the giant flat-screen. The level of power this Mr. Lee has over Sam’s house is so great that it becomes absurd after a while. The movie does eventually supply him with a motivation, although given how personal he seem to take Sam and Brady’s pranks, it really isn’t too difficult to guess what it is.
The movie is directed by debut filmmakers Alexis Wajsbrot and Damien Mace, and given how visually extravagant the movie is, it’s really no surprise to learn that they have backgrounds as visual effects artists. The camera is constantly in motion in this film, moving through windows, key holes, and a white van, and sometimes in single takes. The technique is impressive, yet it tends to draw too much attention to itself. We find ourselves thinking more about the camera tricks rather than the story they’re supposed to be telling.
And someone should have told them that being a director not only means visualizing the movie, but also working with the actors to try and get the best possible performances from them. It’s here that Wajsbrot and Mace fail miserably. The acting here is worse than bad; it’s painfully amateurish. There is not a single line of dialogue that’s delivered convincingly here. Clayton’s performance is particularly bad, although given the fact that he’s handed such a weak and intensely detestable character to play (the comment he makes about Sam’s mom earlier in the film is revolting), it might not be his fault.
Truth be told, I do really like the idea behind this movie. I like the idea of a couple of high school bullies getting a taste of their own medicine by a seemingly omnipotent villain, and maybe becoming more sympathetic as the film progresses. The problem with Don’t Hang Up is that I never once felt any sympathy for the characters. I hated them from the very beginning, and I gave up trying to care about them long before the mayhem started.
Final Grade: * (out of ****)
Rated R for violence, profanity, sexual references