Morality and Murder Collide in Two New Horror Movies
‘Don’t Hang Up’ and ‘Havenhurst’ are new this week. Are either of them worth your time?
Don’t Hang Up and Havenhurst hit VOD and/or limited theatrical release this weekend. Keep reading for our reviews of both.
Don’t Hang Up
It’s undeniably impressive just how well Don’t Hang Up recovers from its irritatingly obnoxious and terribly-charactered first act to become a thrilling and suspenseful little morality tale that owes a minor debt to the likes of Saw and Scream. But good lord is it a rough beginning.
A woman is woken from a deep sleep by a ringing phone. A voice tells her it’s the police, that they have her house surrounded, and that multiple intruders are in her home. She’s understandably terrified, but it’s her fear for her young daughter that forces panic in her mind, especially as the voice says the daughter has been abducted and shot – before it’s revealed that the callers are a group of pranksters making “funny” calls and uploading the clips to YouTube for lolz. They make people believe their loved ones are dead or cheating on them, and it’s “hilarious.”
These are not likable young men, and as the montage of calls over a period of months comes to an end we settle on the tightest and most dickish of the bros, Sam (Gregg Sulkin) and Brady (Garrett Clayton). The script (from Joe Johnson, The Skulls III) makes efforts to humanize the pair through their relationships to parents and a girlfriend, but they fail – these are irredeemable pricks. So when a stranger calls them warning them not to hang up or face dire consequences, we can’t help but root for the stranger.
And we keep doing so right through to the end.
Directors Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot do serviceable work early on, but just as the script picks up during the second act so does the direction. Suspenseful beats are played well through close-ups, smart reveals, and an appreciation of genre expectations that still allows for a surprise or two. We have a vague suspicion of the killer’s motivations before they’re actually shared, but it doesn’t hurt the film’s execution and momentum as it heads toward a solidly satisfying conclusion.
Both leads do good work despite the handicap of playing obnoxious characters deserving of almost everything heading their way, and the supporting players are equally fine. The killer is a curious one as once he finally appears I’m still not entirely sure if he’s wearing a mask or not. It’s creepy regardless.
Don’t Hang Up brings Saw-like judgement to a Scream-like scenario, but it succeeds in being its own creation by delivering some fun thrills, plenty of blood, and a smart turn or two. It touches on tech issues related to computer security too, and while its efforts pale beside the likes of The Den they’re enough to add some real-world scares to the proceedings. Ignore the cheesy title and give this one a shot next time you’re home alone and looking for something to watch. Just trust me through the first twenty minutes or so…it gets better.
Don’t Hang Up opened Friday in limited theatrical release.
While the moral judgments of the Saw franchise make an appearance in the film above, Havenhurst adds more than just the theme into its mix. It adds moving gears, crunching bones, puzzle pieces, and bloody gore as well.
Jackie (Julie Benz, Dexter) is an alcoholic recovering from both her addiction and a tragedy, and as she heads back into society the place that welcomes her is a sprawling high-rise called Havenhurst run by a woman (Fionnula Flanagan, The Others) who professes an interest in helping people get back on their feet. She’s given the room previously occupied by a friend who disappeared recently – we see her manhandled and pulled into the shadows by an unknown being earlier – and something feels immediately off.
The place has rules, strict rules, and the residents – from addicts to pedophiles – are told to respect them or face eviction. It should come as no surprise that “eviction” is a euphemism for a violent demise. As Jackie digs into her friend’s disappearance she finds dangerous secrets that threaten to drive her back to the bottle. And we know what happens then.
Director/co-writer Andrew C. Erin has a clearly-defined intention here as the invisible threat takes shape and Jackie struggles to find the truth and the strength to resist the guilt and temptations of her addiction, but the execution hits a lot of bumps. For one, this large apartment building – seen from the outside and confirmed as huge – is nearly empty inside. It never feels as if we’re in a populated environment as the residents seem to number in the single digits. Maybe it has something to do with the utterly terrible lighting throughout the place that leaves rooms dark even during the day. The sound design is equally troubling as loud cues are used to hit every attempt at a scare thereby negating the scare itself.
It’s too bad as the production design is a cool collection of shifting walls/floors/furniture that tease the building as a deadly mechanical contraption. It’s a like a giant puzzle of death at times, and it makes for some fun visuals – when we can make them out in the dimply-lit environments.
Havenhurst combines elements of the Saw films with narrative beats straight out of Robert Bloch’s American Gothic, but while the promise for something truly special is there the pieces never quite come together.
Havenhurst opened Friday in limited theatrical release.