Don’t Hang Up (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

Directors: Damien Macé, Alexis Wajsbrot
Writer: Joe Johnson
Stars: Sienna Guillory, Garrett Clayton, Gregg Sulkin

Don’t Hang Up from the visual effects artists/director duo Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot is a phoned in, less than stellar attempt at a slasher horror film. It follows the antics of a group of young, immature men who spend their free time prank calling people and posting the ‘hilarious’ results on social media. This inevitably attracts the wrong kind of interest, the tables get turned on them and things go downhill rapidly.

It all kicks off in the middle of a prank call to a woman, awoken in the middle of the night and led to believe her home has been invaded by dangerous intruders. The group of pranksters masquerade as SWAT police officers running a covert surveillance operation on her property, whilst the woman naturally fearful for her young child’s safety, who’s sleeping in her room down the corridor, of course begins to panic. The hysteria she begins experiencing is further exacerbated by the background noise of an ongoing, fake police operation and the sound of footsteps outside her door. Just when things begin to reach fever pitch, the voice on the phone changes tone and alerts the viewer of the elaborate prank.

The film then abruptly switches away from the terrified woman onto the group of pranksters headed up by Sam (Gregg Sulkin) and Brady (Garrett Clayton), who continue on terrorising various other unwitting victims throughout the evening and into the night. That is until they receive a phone call from a mysterious man. Initially they don’t take his threats serious, perhaps being lulled into a false sense of security by his calm and collected telephone manner. However, the man persistently continues to call the pair, now alone together, and when he starts revealing some rather intimate knowledge of the pairs private lives and their houses, the previous laid back, bravado, devil may care attitude quickly dissipates, turning to panic. This only intensifies when the mystery caller reveals he’s taken Brady’s parents hostage and their futile attempts to contact the police are redirected to their tormentor. What follows next is a pretty par for the course horror story.

The two men find their situation becoming more and more dire as the man assumes total control and begins handing out ultimatums, whilst taunting the pair by revealing that he’s; kidnapped their friend and sadistically, suffocated him to death whilst videoing the entire ordeal; tied up and gagged Brady’s parents; and begun threatening Sam’s girlfriend, Peyton (Bella Dayne), who accidentally enters the whole affair after delivering a pizza to the house. There’s a few twists that are mostly of the telegraphed variety. The first of which involves the ‘shocking’ discovery that the man has already killed Brady’s parents, apparently showing a delayed video feed, whilst doing his best to manipulate the pair. The second involves Sam stabbing his masked assailant outside, towards the end, after resolving to end the affair once and for all, only to discover that he’s stabbed Brady. This one was so blatantly obvious that I actually laughed whilst watching it, which I’d imagine is probably not the intended reaction.

The third and final twist reveals the identity of the mysterious man. It seems that during the prank on the woman at the beginning, the apparent reveal of said prank wasn’t relayed to the woman herself and so she continued on believing an intruder was in her home. The film then travels back in time to complete the picture and give us one more twist. The woman after leaving her room, accidentally shoots her young daughter and distraught at what’s she’s done, takes her own life immediately afterwards. The mysterious man, who I can only assume is her husband, naturally took umbrage at these unfortunate events and decided to unleash some vengeance on the perpetrators. And so the film ends with the rightful shooting of Sam and the not so rightful shooting of the incredibly unlucky Peyton (she was only delivering a bloody pizza after all).

There’s not many good performances in this, let alone great, but I can’t be too harsh on the actors/actresses, because you can only work with the script you have. You can’t polish a turd, just ask Hayden Christensen (the first name that pops into my head when I think of these situations) who almost had his career destroyed by a certain Mr. Lucas, and this film is most certainly a turd. It’s visually decent, which considering Macé and Wajsbrot’s impressive body of visual effects work on a host of blockbuster films, is perhaps not too surprising. Unfortunately though, the script is honking and that’s being polite. The characters were extremely underdeveloped and I had no reason to either care or root for them, so I didn’t. The only ones I felt even a modicum of emotion for were Peyton and the woman at the beginning, who I believe is Mrs. Kolbein (Sienna Guillermo). Both these characters were unfortunate bystanders to the idiotic behaviour of Sam, Brady and their cronies, ultimately paying with their lives.

My final verdict on Don’t Hang Up is don’t bother. Incredibly, it’s not the worst horror film I’ve ever seen, although that’s really not saying much in a genre literally teaming with crap, but it’s still the epitome of average.

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