Everybody is always looking to find a new angle or a fresh way of looking at the typical horror film. That is, when they’re not trying to recycle/reboot/remake/reimagine something that’s already been done, often more than once. Credit writer Glenn B Hopper III and director Neil H. Weiss for at least coming up with a new spin on some old ideas. The Hanged Man doesn’t venture very far from its traditional horror roots, but it does offer you a little more thoughtful motivations and insights into its characters and situations. I have to admit that while I didn’t exactly see the end coming, it wasn’t a terrible surprise or shock either. These guys didn’t exactly telegraph their punches. In fact you could say that they took the long way around to their conclusion … maybe too long.
A group of depressed folks who have become chat room buddies meet on an isolated farm, once the homestead of one of them. They’ve come here to carry out a very simple plan. Life, for one reason or another, has gotten out of control for each of them. They’ve reached the conclusion, perhaps with the help of their leader Dwarfstar, that the only option left to them is to end it all. So they’ve gathered to kill themselves in this lonely place. Each of them arrives one at a time. They bring their real-life baggage with them, often in sharp contrast to the internet side of them, which is all they have, until now, known of each other. SoCo (Hatley) has a lot of aggression and is the most eager to get done with their business there. Miles (Jones) is a bit of a yuppie throwback in his pink Izod shirt and faux calmness. Flash (Gibson) is an urban cowboy full of booze and totin’ a six-gun. He’s as loud as his clothes. X-Factor (Hampton) is the quiet one. LT56 (Weissman) is a middle-aged loser who claims to be a rich stockbroker but arrives in a stolen Porsche. Finally, there is Spaceshot (Leigh) who grew up on this now abandoned farm. They are all waiting for Dwarfstar to arrive with his “magic potion” that will release them from their miserable lives.
The stolen car attracts the attention of a redneck sheriff (Hatley) who ends up a prisoner of the group. Much of the film involves their wait for Dwarfstar and deciding what to do with their captive lawman. Each of them begins to have weird visions. Some of the visions appear to be traumatic events from their past, perhaps giving us a glimpse as to why they are so messed up. Other visions appear to be of the future. Often these attacks appear in the shape of the sheriff, even though he is still safely tied up in the barn. As their lives become revealed to each other, they are forced to look at their lives as these others now do. There are feelings of betrayal and eventually doubt as to their intended actions. For a group of people who expected to already be dead, they begin to fight the supernatural forces working among them. In the end we discover we have really been watching a ghost story.
You expect this movie to follow the traditional path at first. You know the kind of film I’m talking about. Isolated woods. Supernatural force. We expect them to get picked off one by one. But Weissman and Hopper are actually interested in something quite different. Perhaps it’s that refreshing journey away from the expected path that makes the film work even as it bogs down somewhere in the middle. There’s not enough explanation. And while we get more than we usually do on these characters, it’s still not that easy to care what happens to them. They’re not necessarily very likable, and they wanted to die anyway. Perhaps the filmmakers are saying that dying wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to them. I’ll bite. Then what was?
The film is atmospheric enough, and the acting was better than I’m used to on these rather low-budget affairs. There’s not a lot of gore for all of you gore hounds out there. This is not a slasher film by any means. If that’s what you want, this is not the film for you. But, if you’re willing to go along for a slightly off-kilter ride into psychological horror, you could do worse than renting The Hanged Man.
The Hanged Man is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Unfortunately, the picture quality here is really bad at times. There is so much compression artifact that the image shifts and stutters even on still scenes. Check out the film at about 1:12:00 and you really can’t miss it. The film starts out in the daylight and doesn’t look quite so bad at first. The darker the day gets, the more intense the compression artifact.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 isn’t any better. Sound levels shift inexplicably throughout. Most of the time you’ll hear the dialog fine, which is the best you can say. It seems obvious the actors were wearing clip-on mics at times. You can hear the distortion and brushing noises when they move their clothing about.
I liked this film, for the most part. I really did. The middle tends to get stuck in the mud of a lot of existential psychobabble, and I’m really taken out of the film by that point. It was tough to get back in so that I could enjoy the big reveal. It doesn’t help that the film’s distributer really jobbed these guys on the transfers. Likely the money was gone before the film began its journey on the home video process. “That sounds so sad.”