Don’t Hang Up (2016) Review

rsz_dhu1DON’T HANG UP (2016)

Starring Gregg Sulkin, Garrett Clayton, Bella Dayne and Sienna Guillory

Directed by Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot

Written by Joe Johnson

Out on DVD on 12th June 2017 and Digital on 26th June 2017 courtesy of Solo Media and Matchbox Films

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“.

Social media themed thrillers are everywhere now. Some are actually quite successful, with Unfriended somehow managing to make a film entirely shot through webcams gripping, and the glossy thriller Nerve was a fun time. But they all come with a built in flaw, one that is completely incurable. As soon as they’re released, possibly as soon as they’re scripts are finished, they become dated. Social media is constantly evolving, on a daily basis. Seriously, how many Facebook updates have you had in the past month? In the digital age, a techno thriller has a tough task staying up to date for its savvy target audience.

Enter Don’t Hang Up, which does itself no favours by having characters who are still using consumer camcorders when they have 4K iPhones that can upload their pranks directly to YouTube! I wouldn’t bring any of this up if not for the fact that this is all vital to the plot and characters. And it’s details like these which start chipping away at the believability.

rsz_dhu2Speaking of characters, there are no heroes here. Our protagonists are dicks, particularly Brady (Clayton), an irritating dick. And no matter how lovesick Sam (Sulkin) is, he is still a dick. Which is fine, we don’t need likeable characters, as long as they’re interesting. But these are just those pricks Lad Bible like to make famous. The opening scene, involving their horrible prank on Sienna Guillory’s mother, establishes that. Now, this would all again be fine, if the film took a more satirical stance, and really analysed these YouTube personalities and their affect on society. But the filmmakers go with a traditional thriller instead, stalked by an all seeing malevolent home invader playing a twisted game Jigsaw would do after he watched When A Stranger Calls, and the suspense in those only works for me if I give a shit about the people involved. And I really didn’t.

The leads struggle with the script, which forces Sulkin and Clayton to be hysterical as soon as the shit hits the fan. It would have been much more fun to see the snivelling little sociopaths begin to show their true colours. But they are just asked to cry or look like they’ve been crying a lot. It’s annoying.

I’ll say one thing though, the directors know how to make a small film feel big, with lots of cinematic stylistic flourishes throughout a very brisk runtime. It’s just a shame the writer didn’t share their ambitions.

rsz_dhu3This all may sound like I didn’t enjoy Don’t Hang Up, but I actually did. It’s a fairly fun contained thriller, with some nice sadism thrown in and some actual surprises. But this subject is so rife and relevant and ready for an ambitious exploration that I wanted more. It just fails to live up to the promise of its premise for me.


Another Me (2013) Review

anome1Another Me (2013)

Director: Isabel Coixet

Stars: Sophie Turner, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Claire Forlani, Rhys Ifans, Gregg Sulkin, Charlotte Vega, Geraldine Chaplin

UK Release TBC

Fay (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner) was a fun-loving teen until her father Don (Rhys Ifans) was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Devastated, as she watches his condition deteriorate, her relationship with her mother Ann (Claire Forlani) suffers.

Fay continues to attend school and auditions for the role of Lady MacBeth under the encouragement of drama teacher Don (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Things seem to be looking up a little when her crush Drew (Gregg Sulkin) is cast opposite her and bitchy rival Monica (Charlotte Vega) is made her understudy.

anome2However, a dark sequence of events unfolds as Fay comes to realise that her mother is conducting an extramarital affair. In emotional turmoil, Fay finds herself under more pressure when first her elderly neighbour, then her school friends and teachers claim to have seen her at times and locations where she wasn’t present. As Fay starts to see signs of a shadowy stalker she begins to unravel. Who is this mysterious doppelgänger — and what does she want?

Needless to say with a cast of this calibre, the acting in Another Me is great. That the actors are given characters so well-rounded certainly helps their cause.  Much is asked of Turner. At times it becomes uncomfortable to watch because it feels as if you are witnessing a young woman experiencing a genuine nervous breakdown. She was cast in this role before landing the part of Sansa Stark but she shows no inexperience here. She’s excellent. Elsewhere Ifans gives a tremendously powerful performance. It’s very restrained by his standards and all the more captivating for it. Meyers and Forlani also impress with their roles — although the pair deserved more screentime.

Sadly one of the film’s flaws is that it focuses more on the younger cast than the experienced Forlani, Meyer and Chaplin. Ifans is given more to do than the other ‘grown-ups’ but even his appearances feel sporadic. I know it’s set in a school but it feels like a waste of some considerable talent.

anome4Director Isabel Coixet has built a reputation for character-driven, beautiful films with the likes of Elegy and My Life Without Me. Another Me shares plenty with her previous works, focusing on character interaction, drama and romance. It’s an understated and controlled take on terror, with some gentle jolts along the way as it slowly builds towards a horrifying finale. There’s very little blood, instead relying on good-old fashioned spooky concepts. Coixet deserves credit for trying to bring her higher-brow artistic storytelling sensibilities to a genre that all too often insults the intelligence of its fans.

This is carried over into the starkly beautiful cinematography by Jean-Claude Larrieau. The colour palette is muted with emphasis drawn to certain motifs, including Turner’s striking red hair. The grimy greys reflect the urban environment in which the story takes place, as well as echoing Fay’s emotional state. It really is quite tremendous.

But (and there’s no polite way to say this) Another Me is boring. It focuses so much on delivering an intelligent, character-driven take on horror that it forgets to include the scares. This could be forgiven if the film was especially clever — unfortunately the plot is not as intelligent or original as it thinks it is. What’s more it unfolds at a snail’s pace, layering on foreshadowing so thickly that it gives viewers a good 10 minutes’ notice to work out what’s coming.

anome3Even the creepy finale is spoiled by the fact that we’re given so much time to suss out the big reveal. I really wanted to like Another Me. I love the look of the film and Coixet’s decision to focus on character, but it moves like molasses and tells a story rife with clichés.

Perhaps if it had been marketed as a thriller rather than a horror title this would have gone down a little better?
As a drama with some spooky elements, it delivers (albeit slowly). As a horror movie, I’m afraid it comes up short. Bear this in mind should you decide to give it a go.