Adventures in Streaming: Hangman (2017)

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Hangman is a film starring Karl Urban (Will), Al Pacino (Ray), and Brittany Snow (Christi); Will and Ray were partnered detectives until Ray’s retirement, and Christi is a journalist assigned to Will as part of a project. When a serial killer begins a “game” of hangman with human victims, Ray is convinced to come out of retirement to help Will catch him. Ultimately the killer – who is someone from Ray’s past – targets the main characters as well as their boss, and since he’s killing quickly, the detectives know they don’t have much time to track him down before he kills again.

So … where to begin here?

The three actors playing the leads offer the same good acting they usually do; the problem lies more in the pacing, the dialogue, and the editing: the characters don’t get to know one another, the audience doesn’t get to know them, and the dialogue is not only bare-bones but also disjointed, as though pieces of the film were spliced together (badly) after someone cut up the original.

We feel as though we arrived in the middle of a story, but this introductory scene has so little to do with the rest of the plot that the one connection – mentioned at the very end of the movie – seems to be completely contrived: “Oh, yeah, we have to have a reason why the van in the beginning was important.” It’s almost as though the director forgot himself what point he was making, and quickly tacked it on at the last minute.

Ray has the potential to be truly interesting, but he’s relegated to saying a couple of almost random things to the coroner and to Will; his conversations with Christi are structured as though they’ve known each other forever, even though he never laid eyes on her before that day. Perhaps the intention was to present him as a father-figure … but in the end, this presentation of his every word as somehow deeply meaningful just comes across as an old detective who’s trying to feel relevant but can’t deliver the way he once did.

Will has a tragic back-story that turns out to be connected to the killer, but not because the killer knew Will or his late wife; it’s simply a huge coincidence … or maybe it was supposed to be targeted, but the connection is never discussed other than to cast doubt on Will, or on his wife, or … actually, I’m not sure why it was in the story at all. Maybe it was to provide a reason for Will to be even more determined to catch the killer? – but he was already fairly determined, since, you know, he’s a homicide detective. Maybe it was meant to emotionally compromise Will, so that we would wonder if he would be able to handle tracking the killer down? – but Will is never emotionally compromised about any of it. He seems mostly just to be vaguely irritated. The movie takes the time to point out how much Will hasn’t gotten over his wife’s death, but all of his mannerisms and actions suggest that he’s recovered just fine – the alleged prolonged grief literally never informs anything his character does at all, ever.

Christi’s back story is fairly important, both as her motivation for the project she’s writing and as a parallel to what is offered as a theme for the movie: she has reason to know how much police detectives can give up for their demanding, emotionally draining jobs, and she wants to honour and reward them with her story. But Will and Ray aren’t presented as people who’ve particularly given up much on an emotional level; in fact, Ray misses the job so much that he can’t stay away. Is he having trouble feeling valuable in retirement, as so many people do? – maybe, but no one ever discusses that openly or even covertly, so this potential character development goes nowhere. Christi’s back story is offered in narrative fashion, half-way through the film, pursuant to nothing that’s happened in the film to that point, and in regards to a police officer in her own life who is completely unknown to either detective. It has no depth or significance other than that it meant something to her, but since we don’t see anything about it, it might as well be her ordering takeout.

The murderer is presented as a serial killer with an intricate message that he is sending to police/the world by requiring detectives to decipher clues at each crime scene. A hangman-game letter is carved on each victim, which is narratively compelling and visually interesting. But the clues are almost invisible to the audience, the visuals are scant and disconnected, a whole person seems to have been removed from the body count the detectives are using (even though they continue to mention this person as a victim), and until the literal last minute, there’s no real attempt by the detectives to figure out the word the killer is trying to spell.

Some of the murders are set up in interesting ways … I guess there’s that.

To the actors’ credit, I don’t think any of this is their fault. They bring the same good energy I’ve experienced from them in other roles, but even the best artist won’t win at Pictionary if no one tells them what they’re supposed to be drawing. They look and sound throughout as though they delivered a solid performance that was later hacked to shreds in the editing room and put back together by kindergartners.

The story is never focused on any one thing. Side stories are never fleshed out or addressed. No one is given the chance to seem like a genuine person. Events happen so quickly that we don’t have time to absorb what happened to one victim before there’s another, and even the nick-of-time rescues are performed with the same lack of urgency or tension as waiting for pizza delivery. Stuff that’s deliberately mentioned as potential clues is never brought up again. The introductory chase is never fully explained other than to suggest the killer seems to have been in the van – we don’t even know why we care about this van, other than that Ray was chasing it down for sideswiping him. Nothing happens with the van. Nothing happens in the van. Nothing happens next to the van. Ray sees an icon hanging from the rear-view mirror, but the icon isn’t particularly unique or pertinent to the killer’s character – he might as well say that we know the killer was the driver of the van because the killer had a driver’s license. The story itself is presented in such a disjointed way that it doesn’t even feel like a story, and, worst of all, the killer ends up being someone we have never seen or heard about in the entire rest of the film.

The blurb for Hangman piques curiosity and promises a good installment in the genre … but in the end it’s a dumpster fire.

popcorn icon  0 out of 10