Just when you thought Mike Flanagan’s Hush was going to provide 2016 with its freshest take on the home invasion subgenre, Adam Mason’s Hangman offers a bolder reinvention still. Ratcheting up the tension with real ingenuity, this is bold, accomplished stuff that feels disquietingly voyeuristic and genuinely terrifying.
To call the film “found footage” would not be strictly accurate by conventional definitions, but for all intents and purposes, those are the rules that Hangman plays by. A family returns home from vacation to find their house has been broken into. While it doesn’t appear that anything has been stolen, it’s been left in pretty bad condition. Finding no intruders in the house, police conclude that someone may have broken in and lived there for a few days, citing some recent similar incidents in the area. Assuming that’s the end of it, husband Aaron (Jeremy Sisto, May, Six Feet Under) and wife Beth (Kate Ashfield, Shaun of the Dead) attempt to return to normality, as well as restore their children’s faith in their own safety. Unbeknownst to them, the intruder has set up hidden cameras in every room of the house, and can come and go as he pleases. With unfettered access to their home, he begins waging painfully drawn-out psychological warfare on the family.
Hangman burns unapologetically slowly, but crams its horror into such unusually tight spaces that it never wants for momentum. The simple combination of the family’s obliviousness and the slow, methodical nature of the mind games is profoundly unsettling from the off, and with such an expertly executed tone of dread, the decision to only up the action in the final ten minutes is one from which the film benefits. The danger is constant but restrained, omnipresent but measured: there’s no need for spectacle when the film succeeds so unequivocally in low-key tension.
Benefiting also from strong performances both Sisto and Ashfield as well as their on screen children (played by real-life siblings Ryan (Anguish, Twixt) and Ty Simpkins (Jurassic World, Insidious), Hangman manages to overcome the shopworn feeling that hangs over many films in the found-footage and home invasion subgenres in 2016. Angling away from tropes is one thing, but this kind of reinvigoration is quite another. Its final moves might feel a little blunt-force compared to what came before it, but this is a film to be ranked alongside Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation as one of 2016’s finest VOD horror releases.