dont_hang_up_3Year: 2016
Director(s): Damien Mace, Alexis Wajsbrot
Writer(s): Joe Johnson
Region of Origin: UK
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 82 mins

Synopsis: An evening of drunken prank calls becomes a nightmare for a pair of teenagers when a mysterious stranger turns their own game against them…with deadly consequences. (Source)

Viral videos have taught us many things – we love to make celebrities out of people for doing inconsequential things, cats are cute, and we’re also really hateful, terrible people. Don’t Hang Up, directed by VFX artists Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot, shows us the consequences of a thoughtless viral prank gone horribly wrong; think of the film as Saw for the YouTube generation. With it’s rapid-fire pace, economical plotting and locked room premise, it isn’t afraid to go all the way, staring deep into the darkness that each of us may be capable of when pushed too far. By nature, it’s a thematically ugly film, nasty and grim, centering on despicable people doing despicable things to strangers until the tables are turned and two drunken teenagers get more than they can handle. It may not be for everyone, but those that can brave it will get a slickly crafted, thrill-a-minute horror film that feels timely, and is propped up by some equally strong performances.

The story begins when frantic phone call awakens an unknown woman (Sienna Guillory) in the middle of the night. Thinking it’s from the police, she pays careful attention as she’s warned that an unknown invader has broken into her home with malicious intent for her and her daughter. After things grow unbearably tense, she’s told that it’s just a joke and hung up on. A recorded version of the prank call is uploaded to the internet, where it enjoys a viral rise to fame, and the teenagers responsible relegate it to carefree fun. Shortly after, two of the teens responsible, Sam (Gregg Sulkin) and Brady (Garrett Clayton), meet for some pizza, beer and a movie, but decide to make a few more prank calls along the way. Things get eerie real quick, when one of their victims calls back, seemingly knowing everything about them and making threats that can’t just be ignored. Unwilling to play along at first, Sam and Brady soon realize that in order to save the people they love and themselves, they’ll have to submit to the will of their tormentor, completing a set of gruesome challenges before its too late.

Benefitting from the simplicity of its straightforward premise, the film mercilessly barrels towards its inevitably grim conclusion without ever looking back. Whereas most films wait till those final minutes to ratchet things up, this one’s propulsive right from the start, making the most of its single setting and making sure to never repeat itself along the way. You’ve go to hand it to Mace and Wajsbrot, for the way they stylishly set up the setting’s geography (a living room) a la some Panic Room-esque camera acrobatics, making full use of the claustrophobic space to further plot and give each escalating segment its own unique feel. It’s a testament to Joe Johnson’s script, that though you can easily predict the film’s many twists and turns, their actual revelations aren’t any less impactful. This is namely due to the fact that the film doesn’t give us any half measures. Almost everything terrible that can happen will, leading for some savage turns which enforce the story’s twisted view on vengeance and internet celebrity.

dont_hang_up_1Aside from Mace and Wajsbrot’s keen eye for chaos, it’s really the performances from Gregg Sulkin and Garrett Clayton that keep our eyes glued to the screen. Deliberately unlikable, they’re two contrasting characters who are strongly defined and bring different viewpoints and emotions to what’s at stake. Sulkin’s Sam is the more empathetic of the two; he’s the nice guy, boy-next-door type who can sense the larger implications of his pranking, but goes along with everything anyways. You gravitate towards him but you still are hesitant to give him a break and it’s that fine duality that Sulkin evokes so naturally. As Brady, Garrett is an enabler, dangerously mischievous but charismatic. Garrett gives the film some levity when we least expect and when things get rough towards the end, reveals some surprising depth. Though these two are hard to like in concept, they have a real chemistry together and a presence that jumps off the screen. If there’s a weak spot, it’s Bella Dayne’s Peyton. Dayne’s performance isn’t a problem, so this isn’t her fault, but her role is basically window dressing, resulting in another poor reflection for women in the genre, at a time where they are really flourishing and being allowed to rule it.

Cutting through the glut of horror films that are woefully stretched thin or content to be nothing more than schlocky, retro throwbacks to the 70s or 80s, it’s nice to see a film rooted in the semantics of the present and the terrifying implications of how technology has warped and affected our society. Though it relies on a few shop-worn tropes, it exists firmly in the now and gives new context to some of its familiarity, showing how behind every click and viral video, there’s a flesh-and-blood human being, and consequences to every action. Don’t Hang Up ultimately has something for every kind of horror fan, whether you’re into slashers, home invasion or suspense and gore. I wouldn’t call this fun (it’s just too dark), but it’s wholly electrifying and hard to look away from – and I mean that in the best way.

SG